Berlin, September 17
Scientists have trained rats to play hide and seek with humans, an advance that paves the way for studying the neurobiology of playful behaviour in animals.
The study, published in the journal Science, noted that very little is known about the neurological basis of playful behaviours in animals since such activities are free, and provides no benefits to the organism beyond the game.
The researchers noted that the traditional methods of neuroscience -- which often rely on strict control and conditioning -- are not much useful to study playful behaviour.
Annika Reinhold of Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany, and her colleagues taught rats to play a rat-versus-human version of "Hide and Seek."
With a few weeks of training, the rats could not only play the game, but also learned to alternate between hiding and seeking roles, the study noted.
The researchers added that the rats became highly proficient at the game.
According to Reinhold and her team, the rats, while seeking, learned to look for a hidden human, and to keep looking for them until they were found.
The rodents also learned to remain in hiding until they were discovered by the human player.
The researchers rewarded the rats with playful social interactions, such as tickling, petting, or rough-and-tumble-like play when the animals were successful at hiding and seeking behaviours.
The results of the study show that the animals gradually learned to be strategic over time.
They started searching systematically, using visual cues in the surroundings, and investigating the places where their human counterparts hid in the previous turns, the study noted.
The rats also remained silent when hiding, changed locations between turns, and preferred to be concealed in opaque cardboard boxes, instead of transparent ones.
The authors also observed that the rat vocalisations were unique to each role.
The associated neuronal recordings revealed intense activity in the prefrontal-cortex that varied with game events, the study noted. PTI
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