Rats follow rules
23 May 2008
Scientists at the UCL Institute for Behavioural Neuroscience, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oxford, have demonstrated that rats have the ability to follow complex rules.
Using rules extracted from experience to solve problems in novel situations involves cognitions such as reasoning through analogy and language learning, and is considered a keystone of humans' unique abilities. Non-primates, it has been argued, lack such rule transfer.
However, this study, by Drs Robin Murphy and Esther Modragon (UCL Physchology) with Dr VA Murphy from Oxford University, finds that in fact, Rattus norvegicus (the common, or brown, rat) can learn simple rules and apply them to new situations. Rats learned that sequences of stimuli consistent with a rule (such as XYX) were different from other sequences (such as XXY or YXX). When novel stimuli were used to construct sequences that did or did not obey the previously learned rule, rats transferred their learning. Therefore rats, like humans, can transfer structural knowledge from sequential experiences.
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