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09 March 2007

Rats are aware of thinking

Rats are able to assess or reflect on their own mental processes - an ability that was previously identified only in humans and other primates, researchers say.

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The lowly rat may be smarter than you think.

New US research finds the rodents are able to assess or reflect on their own mental processes - an ability called "metacognition" that was previously identified only in humans and other primates.

To test the rats, researchers at the University of Georgia utilised an approach used to assess metacognition in primates. The rats were familiarised with a specific test and learned to determine whether or not they were capable of accomplishing the task and receiving a large food reward.

How the study was conducted
In this study, the rats had to differentiate between noises of either short duration (between 2 and 3.6 seconds) or long duration (between 4.4 and 8 seconds). This was relatively easy for the rats when there was a marked difference in the noise duration, for example 2 seconds vs. 8 seconds. But it became more challenging when the short and the long noises were closer in duration, such as 3.6 seconds and 4.4 seconds.

The more difficult the task, the more often the rats simply decided not to perform it, the study found.

The findings increase knowledge about the prevalence of certain cognitive skills in animals and may provide new opportunities to study the neuroanatomical and molecular mechanisms associated with metacognition, the study authors said.

The findings were published in the March 8 online issue of Current Biology. – (HealthDayNews)

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March 2007

 
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