Rats as good at decision-making as humans: study

  • Published : Mar 14, 2012 - 13:28
  • Updated : Mar 14, 2012 - 13:31

Rats are smart, that's a well known fact. But US researchers said Tuesday a series of tests have shown they may be just as good as humans at juggling information in order to make the best decision.

A white rat in a laboratory

The discovery could help scientists better understand how the brain works in order to help people with autism who have difficulty processing various stimuli the way that others can, said the study authors.

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory ran tests that presented rats with a variety of sound and visual cues, and analyzed how the rodents sifted through that information and recognized patterns in order to get a treat.

Comparing the rats to humans who were given similar tests, they found that both groups made decisions that were in line with the "statistically optimal"

curve -- in other words, the best way possible.

"Statistically optimal combination of multiple sensory stimuli has been well documented in humans, but many have been skeptical about this behavior occurring in other species," said neuroscientist Anne Churchland, who led the study appearing in the March 14 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"Our work is the first demonstration of its occurrence in rodents."

The findings suggest that the same evolutionary process may be at play in rats and humans that allows for sophisticated decision-making, and could offer a platform for study of autism spectrum disorders, the study said.

People with autism are often unable to choose which sensory stimuli to pay attention to and which to ignore, making commonplace events like going to the grocery store a potentially insufferable outing.

"We can use our rat model to 'look under the hood' to understand how the brain is combining multisensory information and be in a better position to develop treatments for these disorders in people," said Churchland.

Next, Churchland and colleagues plan to build on their research by studying the interaction of sensory experiences and memory.

"Now that we have a good animal model in which to investigate these questions, the world -- or the brain -- is our oyster," she said. (AFP)


<한글 기사>

"쥐, 인간만큼 의사결정 능력 갖춰”

쥐가 최선의 판단을 하기 위해 정보를 다루는 데 있어 인간에 못지않은 능력을 갖추고 있다는 실험 결과가 나왔다.

미국 콜드 스프링 하버 실험실의 연구진은 쥐에 다양한 청각•시각적 신호를 준 뒤 쥐가 이 정보를 어떻게 추려내 패턴을 인식하는지를 분석한 결과 이같이 나타났다고 13일(현지시간) 밝혔다.

연구진을 이끈 신경과학자 앤 처치랜드는 인간이 아닌 다른 종(種)이 여러 자극을 최적으로 조합할 수 있을지에 대해 회의적인 사람들이 많았다면서 이번 실험은 "

쥐가 이런 일을 할 수 있다는 것을 처음으로 보여줬다"고 말했다.

그는 뇌가 다감각적 정보를 어떻게 결합하는지 이해하고 자폐증 환자의 치료법을 개발하는 데 도움이 될 것이라고 이 연구에 의미를 부여했다.

연구진은 특히 이번 연구로 뇌가 작동하는 것을 더 잘 이해할 수 있게 돼 다양한 자극을 처리하는데 어려움을 겪는 자폐증 환자들을 치료하는 데 도움이 될  것이 라고 설명했다.

자폐증 환자들은 여러 자극 가운데 집중할 것과 무시할 것을 잘 선택하지 못해 식료품 가게에 가는 것처럼 흔한 일도 견디기 어려워한다.

이번 연구는 14일(현지시간) 과학지 '저널 오브 뉴로사이언스'에 게재된다.