Episode #7 of the course “The Smartest Animals on Earth“
A rat’s brain is about 90% smaller than a human’s, but it is wired very differently. While humans rely mostly on visual information from the eyes to learn about the environment, rats’ brains devote much more space to processing information brought in by their whiskers. A rat can “sense” things without seeing them and can act appropriately to compensate for the things it can’t see. Rats have a high capacity to learn, they exhibit smart emotional behaviors, and they make multiple attempts to solve problems; all these measures tell how intelligent rats really are.
Domesticated as pets but also serving as pests, rats have been integrated with human society for centuries. Rats can be taught to perform tricks, solve puzzles, and remember complicated sequences. They can often remember people or tricks years later. Rats have a high emotional intelligence as well, forming intimate bonds with other rats or with caretakers. They groom each other and cuddle with people and other rats they consider friends. Recently, researchers found that rats laugh when tickled and prefer to spend more time with people who tickle them than people who don’t.
As clever problem solvers, rats will repeat actions with variation until they produce the right result. They might continue to repeat attempts that didn’t work, which slows them down, but their persistence demonstrates to scientists that their intelligence is shaped by multiple interactions in their environment and not just one trial and error process. Rats will figure out ways to climb, walk on their hind legs, or manipulate objects to get what they want.
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