Scientist Michael Brecht was watching YouTube when he got sucked down the rabbit hole watching animals playing hide and seek with their owners. It isn’t uncommon to see domestic animals like dogs playing games with their owner, but Brecht questioned if an animal like a rat would partake in the game if they were taught.
For the next two weeks, Brecht, who is a professor of Neuroscientist at Humboldt University in Berlin, and some of his master students conduct an experiment: Can rats play hide and seek? To conduct this experiment, the team gathered six young rats and put them into a 300-foot fitted room with boxes and barriers.
They first started by showing the rats that being chased by a human hand can be fun. In fact, if they got away from the hand, the scientist would tickle them. Previous studies have shown that rats laugh when being tickled.
To get them to seek, the team would incrementally hide with less and less of their body showing. To entice the rats to discover the team, they would tickle them if they found any researchers. It’s important to note, the rats were never enticed with food or water as a reward, only tickles.
Out of the six rats, five of them learned how to hide, while all six were able to successfully seek, The Atlantic reported.
“Animals can take months to learn tasks, even monkeys, but we’re generally trying to teach them to use joysticks or things they’d never do in normal life,” said Juan Ignacio Sanguinetti-Scheck, who worked on the project.
In the beginning, the rats would look for a reward after the game, but it seems now that the game itself is enough fun that the rodents play without looking for a reward, Bored Panda reported.
Ironically, when the rats hid, they would get really quiet and hide behind solid objects instead of sitting around transparent objects.
“I’ve never seen a rat run so much in a lab.” It’s both heartening and a little tragic to see what rats are really like when they’re just allowed to be rats,” Sanguinetti-Scheck added.