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Rats trained to drive tiny cars find it relaxing, scientists report

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Rat driving tiny car (AFP)

Sometimes life really can be a rat race.

Scientists have reported successfully training the rodents to drive tiny cars in exchange for tasty bits of Froot Loops cereal, and found that learning the task lowered their stress levels.

The study not only advances our understanding of how sophisticated rat brains are, but could one day help in developing new non-pharmaceutical forms of treatment for mental illness, senior author Kelly Lambert of the University of Richmond told AFP on Wednesday.

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Lambert said she had long been interested in neuroplasticity — how the brain changes in response to experience and challenges — and particularly wanted to explore how well rats that were housed in more natural settings (“enriched environments”) performed against those kept in labs.

She and colleagues modified a robot car kit by adding a clear plastic food container to form a driver compartment with an aluminum plate placed on the bottom.

A copper wire was threaded horizontally across the cab’s front to form three bars: left, center and right.

When a rat placed itself on the aluminum floor and touched the wire, the circuit was complete and the car moved in the direction selected.

Seventeen rats were trained over several months to drive around an arena 150 centimeters by 60 centimeters made of plexiglass, with the researchers establishing that the animals could indeed be taught to drive forward as well as steer in more complex navigational patterns.

As she had suspected, Lambert found that the animals kept in so-called “enriched environments” performed far better than their lab rat counterparts, but “it was actually quite shocking to me that they were so much better,” she said.

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The rats’ feces was collected after their trials to test for the stress hormone corticosterone as well as dehydroepiandrosterone, which counters stress.

All rats that underwent training had higher levels dehydroepiandrosterone, indicating a more relaxed state, which could be linked to the satisfaction of gaining mastery over a new skill, referred to as “self-efficacy” or “agency” in humans.

What’s more, rats that drove themselves showed higher levels of dehydroepiandrosterone as compared to those who were merely passengers when a human controlled the vehicle, meaning they were less stressed — something that will be familiar to nervous backseat drivers.

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The biggest takeaway for Lambert was the potential new avenues of treatment the work opened up for people suffering from mental health conditions.

“There’s no cure for schizophrenia or depression. We’re behind,” she said. “And we need to catch up and I think we need to look at different animal models and different types of tasks and really respect that behavior can change our neurochemistry.”

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Former federal prosecutor says judge could void Trump’s pardon for Flynn — here’s how

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Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner responded to President Donald Trump's pardon of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn by saying that it's entirely possible that the judge in Flynn's case could nullify the pardon.

"Just as Judge Emmet Sullivan refused to grant Barr’s corrupt motion to dismiss, I hope Judge [Emmet] Sullivan sets a hearing on whether this pardon is corrupt & hence illegal/void," said Kirschner.

https://twitter.com/glennkirschner2/status/1331713173171343368

Civil Rights attorney Andrew Laufer agreed, saying that he too wants to see how Judge Sullivan deals with the development.

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Reporter busts Trump with damning list of times he previously claimed Flynn was guilty

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On Wednesday, President Donald Trump decided to issue a full pardon of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI in the course of the Russia investigation — despite Flynn's attempt to take back his plea and Attorney General William Barr's efforts to shut down the prosecution.

Although Trump and his supporters for years have painted Flynn as a hero, that was not always the sentiment, however. As BuzzFeed News' Jason Leopold noted in a lengthy Twitter thread, Trump previously was enraged with Flynn's criminal conduct, and publicly declared him a liar.

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Nicolle Wallace bashes ‘two-bit criminal’ Trump for ‘skivvy’ tweet pardoning Michael Flynn

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Retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn admitted his guilt to Judge Emmett Sullivan, but President Donald Trump announced that the former director of national intelligence would never see jail time. After issuing a pardon to Flynn the day before Thanksgiving, MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace attacked the manner in which Trump announced the pardon: by tweet.

"Of all the sordid tales of Trump's presidency, this one might take the cake," said Wallace. "We knew this might be coming. We know Donald Trump likes the power to pardon. There's some reporting he's looking at a pardon for lots of other people. I wonder what your sense is about what else Donald Trump has up his sleeve?"

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