Ever seen a rat who could play a keyboard to the melody of a Pink Floyd song? Check out the YouTube clip below and you’ll meet several rats who can do just that!
One of my professors, Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, shared this clip with me yesterday. I think it’s a fun and very creative example of rat training. These lab rats belong to a research group run by Per Holth, a behavioral researcher at a university in Norway.
How was this trained?
The rat is is an operant chamber (sometimes also called a Skinner box), a small enclosed box that is often used in basic laboratory behavioral research.
In the video, you’ll see that a light comes on above a lever. Once the rat presses that lever, the light goes off and another light comes on above a different lever. After the rat has pressed several levers, he gets a food reward. You can see this happen several times when he goes over and puts his head through the hole in the side of the box.
Most likely, the researchers started out by giving the rat a bit of food every time he pressed one lever. Then, the rat probably had to press two levers to get a bite of food and then three levers. The amount of notes the rat had to play could gradually be increased until the rat was playing enough notes of the song for it to be recognizable.
What the rat is pressing on is a set of levers in the operant chamber. In typical lab experiments, the levers are hooked up to a computer program. Based on the rat’s training history, plus other environmental cues such as lights and sounds, the rat learns to press only certain keys or sequences of keys at certain times to earn a reward. Because we can limit variability and external variables, the operant chamber is a useful device for studying basic behavioral processes related to learning, choice, and memory. However, every once in awhile, even researchers and their rats need to take a break and have some fun!