VSL:SCIENCE // Rats are human too

We’ve always known that rats were capable of complex thought: They memorize mazes and form elaborate social hierarchies. Now we’re learning that they seem to think about thinking itself.
Until recently, that crucial skill — called metacognition — was believed to be unique to humans.

Scientists at the University of Georgia tasked rats with identifying “short” and “long” noises. Rodents that answered correctly were given six food pellets; those that answered wrong got nothing. So far, so Pavlovian. But the rats were also given a third option: If they declined to take the test, they received three food pellets. Most of the rats refused to identify the noises that were hardest to classify — thus suggesting a surprisingly evolved sense of their own knowledge and abilities. It’s something to think about the next time you reach for the rat poison.

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