Rats train students to deliver treats – Omaha World-Herald

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2014 1:00 am

Rats train students to deliver treats

Associated Press |

LINCOLN — A rat competition in which psychology students condition their lab rodents to clear a series of obstacles is still going strong after 40 years at a Lincoln college.

About 15 rats competed in Tuesday’s Xtreme Rat Challenge at Nebraska Wesleyan University, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. The rodents climbed ropes, walked on a tightrope and raced through tubes.

The event was created in 1974 by former psychology professor Marty Klein, who crafted it as an alternative learning experiment from the “boring” psychology labs he sat through as a student.

“It’s much more fun and interesting for the faculty than a traditional lab,” Klein said. “This is much less predictable and a lot more opportunity to be creative.”

The rats aren’t already skilled in clearing obstacles before the students receive them. Students must train them using reinforcement behavior techniques.

“You learn how to train yourself,” said student Erin Svehla, whose rat, Ivy, placed second in the long jump event. “You learn patience, first and foremost, because this is new for both you and the rat.”

Psychology professor Marilyn Petro said there’s no limit to what students can teach their rats.

“We’re always thinking of ways to mix things up a little bit, but each year it’s a new group of students, so it’s new to them,” she said. “That’s what’s fun.”

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Friday, November 28, 2014 1:00 am.

Rats train students to deliver treats – Omaha World-Herald
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