Sunday, March 11, 2007

Rats are Smarter Than You Think.

Did you know that rats can evaluate what they know and do not know?

Metacognition is a type of thinking where the thinker can reason about his/her own thinking. Confused yet? Here's an example - before you start a new assignment, you have an idea of how capable you are of completing the assignment. You've evaluated your ability to carry out the new task (also known as prospective monitoring).

Apparently, rats can do the same. Jonathon Crystal, a comparative psychologist at University of Georgia, did the following study (published in Current Biology):

Rats were given a choice to take a test. If they opted to not take the test, they got a small amount of food pellets. If they opted to take the test and passed it, they got a larger amount of food pellets. They were not penalized if they failed the test.

The test involved playing noises that were either very short (2-3 seconds) or "long" (4-8 seconds). The rats had to classify the noises as "short" or "long." When the noise was in between and difficult to categorize, the rats more often opted to not take the test.

Granted, since they can't tell us what they're thinking, we're extrapolating a lot of information. But it's still a pretty neat little experiment.

Metacognition is not a new concept in the animal world. We do it. Rhesus monkeys and other primates are known to have metacognition. And anyone who's ever had pets knows that we probably know very little about their thoughts and feelings.

Now, rest assured that rats too, are smart little buggers.

photo credit


Anonymous Moof said...

That little rat in your picture is too cute for words! :o)

Yes, rats are definitely smart babies - both the domesticated and the wild varieties. We've had quite a few as pets in the past, and have gotten to know them rather well. When I first started using computers, I often sat at my Amiga with a warm, friendly, sleepy pet rat hiding in my housecoat sleeve, with just his little pink nose sticking out at my wrist.

My husband tells me that when you've developed a "problem" with the wild variety, you can catch one of them in a trap, one time, but you won't catch another. They're far too clever for that, and tend to learn from each others' mistakes (something we humans should imitate! ;o)

6:28 PM  

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