(TMU) — An interesting experiment recently conducted by researchers at the University of Richmond gives new insight into how our environment impacts our mental health. Their results and conclusions were published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.
In the experiment, scientists taught 17 rats how to drive small electronic cars by rewarding them for properly completing a task in the miniature vehicle.
The vehicles were operated by a small circuit that the rats learned to manipulate to make it move in different directions. They were then given food every time a task was completed. However, before the rats were trained to drive the tiny vehicles, they were separated into two groups and raised in entirely different environments.
One group of rats was raised in a typical lab setting—a cage without much access to outside stimuli. Another group was raised in what researchers called an “enriched environment” that included toys to play with, and a more natural and diverse habitat.
They found that the rats who were raised in enriched environments were actually better drivers, and they also managed stress better. After studying the animals further, the researchers discovered that the rats raised in the enriched setting produced more of an anti-stress hormone called dehydroepiandrosterone. However, they also found that the act of learning to drive the vehicles also increased dehydroepiandrosterone in all of the test subjects.
According to the study:
“Compared to standard-housed rats, enriched-housed rats demonstrated more robust learning in driving performance and their interest in the ROV persisted through extinction trials. Dehydroepiandrosterone/corticosterone (DHEA/CORT) metabolite ratios in fecal samples increased in accordance with training in all animals, suggesting that driving training, regardless of housing group, enhanced markers of emotional resilience. These results confirm the importance of enriched environments in preparing animals to engage in complex behavioral tasks. Further, behavioral models that include trained motor skills enable researchers to assess subtle alterations in motivation and behavioral response patterns that are relevant for translational research related to neurodegenerative disease and psychiatric illness.”
Dr. Kelly Lambert, the lead researcher in the study, says that these findings could lead to alternative treatments for mental health problems that involve a form of behavior therapy as opposed to drugs.
“There’s no cure for schizophrenia or depression, and we need to catch up. I think we need to look at different animal models and different types of tasks and really respect that behaviour can change our neurochemistry,” Lambert said, according to the BBC.
This study indicates that learning and completing new tasks may put your brain into a state where it is more chemically equipped to handle stress, suggesting that prescribing new challenges, hobbies, or projects to people with certain conditions could actually work better than medication. Lambert believes that the knowledge gained during this study could even lead to breakthroughs for conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
? These rats driving tiny "rat-operated" cars are all you need to see today: http://via.q13fox.com/S0QG8
Posted by Q13 FOX on Thursday, October 24, 2019
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