Scientists in Germany have spent weeks playing games with a group of rodents, taking cover behind obstacles and encouraging them to unleash their inner Basil the Great Mouse Detective.
Believe it or not, the rats have proven to be extremely capable at finding the hidden humans – and their successes have seen them literally jumping for joy.
The adolescent males were taught to start each game in a closed box, which was opened remotely.
From there, they quickly developed various strategies for finding the human players – including re-visiting spots they had been during previous rounds.
When it came to being sought, the rats were just as clever – they learned to take cover in opaque boxes spread across the room, rather than transparent ones.
Each victory was greeted with “positive social interaction” rather any food treats, and the rats still got a real kick out if it, from leaping into the air to letting out ultrasonic giggles that signifies happiness.
Konstantin Hartmann, from the Humboldt University of Berlin, co-wrote the study for the journal Science and said the results showed just how intelligent rats could be.
He told AFP: “When you work a lot with rats over the years, you see how intelligent these animals are and how social, but it was still very surprising to us to see how well they did.”
The critters enjoyed playing so much that they often did not want to fun to end – sometimes scurrying away to hide at a new location and repeating it several times to indicate that they wanted to continue.
Dr Hartmann said it showed the rodents enjoyed playing for the sake of play itself – but also addressed any potential ethical concerns over the study.
Microwires were attached to the heads of each rat during the game to record their brain activity, allowing them to identify how individual neurons responded to specific events.
He said it could be useful for a future study on how brain development is affected if playtime is restricted during adolescence, both for animals and potentially for humans.
He added: “I think, being aware of the cognitive abilities of an animal is really important.
“This type of research will also help other scientists to see in rats more than what you usually see when you just get the rat and use it for standard experiments, when you’re not aware of what these animals can do.”