Friday, November 23, 2007

A Careful Deliberator

A recent study by scientists in the Netherlands showed that rats contemplate problems by carefully weighing the costs and benefits of a situation before making a decision. This study was the first to demonstrate that a non-human animal creates a desired ratio, or standard, to decide between options that require different levels of efforts and produce different rewards. Scientists tested the rat's behavior with a T-shaped maze, each side of the horizontal line having different amounts of sugar pellets. One side had a single sugar pellet while the other had three to five sugar pellets.
The scientists understood that energy rats spend foraging varies, depending upon the foraging season. With hot/cold temperatures, rain, and obstacles present after a storm, foraging situations vary for rats and they face various levels and forms of uncertainty all the time. With the T-shaped maze, rats that wanted the higher rewards with more sugar pellets had to climb steep barriers. At first, the rats went for the easy pickings but after finding more pellets were available on the other side of the maze, they exerted additional effort but only after a certain point. When too much energy used yielded little gain, they stuck with the smaller amount.
Researchers also noticed that rats seem to behave according to an internal constant standard, a relative ratio for each situation by which choices are measured. The scientists compared this to choices a human makes while considering buying a car at a dealership, the buyer having a costs budget in mind.

Caroline Collins


At 6:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its surprising to hear that rats use so much judgment when foraging for food. I'm wondering why they switched to the more difficult path. I would have assumed once they found an easy path to food, they would continue going to that one until something changed (food taken away or obstacles added).

-Henry Rafferty

At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see if there are specific metabolic limits the rats would endure for a set amount of energy, or are they just hitting "the wall" and settling for easier food.

Posted by -MJP-


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