I Think, Therefore I Am A Rat

  • #1
I was watching Mythbusters, and the redhead girl says, "for this experiment, we'll be using rats because rats are self-aware and less likely to put themselves in danger."

so I just had to look this up.

turns out some people at the U of Georgia did some studies that seem to suggest this.

(from Newsweek):

[...] It's called metacognition—the ability to think about your thoughts, to engage in self-reflection, to introspect. It was long thought to be not just something that we have more of or do better than machines or animals, but that we have and they lack. To know what you know is not only the mark of a skilled game-show contestant who is quick (but not too quick) on the buzzer, but also of consciousness, the last stand for human exceptionalism. Now, however, this claim is on the rocks as both animals and machines show signs that they can engage in self-reflection.

In the latest study, scientists tested for introspection in rats. Jonathon Crystal and Allison Foote of the University of Georgia trained rats to push one lever when they heard a short burst of static, and a second lever when they heard a long burst. The reward for a right answer was six food pellets. A wrong answer yielded nothing. But refusing to answer—like a student fleeing an exam room upon seeing the impossible questions—earned the rat a consolation prize of three morsels. Clearly, the smart strategy was to respond if sure of the answer, but pass if not.


The rats got almost perfect scores when they had to identify two-second or eight-second bursts. But when they heard static of intermediate duration and had to choose "long" or "short," they were twice as likely to decline the test and take the three pellets; they knew what they didn't know. To make sure the rats were truly introspecting, the scientists then eliminated the opt-out choice and required the rats to choose "long" or "short" for the medium bursts. The animals got half right, no better than guessing, which suggests that when they opted out it was indeed because they had assessed the contents of their mind—do I know this?—and made the rational choice, the scientists report in Current Biology. "Rats can reflect on their internal mental states," says Crystal. "They know when they don't know." Other scientists have gotten similar results with dolphins and rhesus monkeys, who also decline to take a test when they don't know the answer. They think about thinking. [...]

I think it's pretty cool. All studies on animal intelligence fascinate me. So if anyone knows more studies along these lines I'd love to know about them... or videos. I watched a BBC doc on chimps a few months ago (can't remember the name) that was awesome.
 
Last edited:

Answers and Replies

  • #2
fluidistic
Gold Member
3,792
161
Indeed a nice study. Thanks for posting this moe darklight.
 
  • #3
82
0
Interesting study. If it turns out to be accurate, I wonder if this will affect the status of mice/rats as the stereotypical lab mammal. Wouldn't self-awareness immediately lead to ethical concerns when it comes to how these animals are currently handled?
 

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