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New studies have found that rats possess the ability to imagine, according to recent research findings.

Humans have the ability to imagine various scenarios, such as a white Christmas or rearranging furniture, that are not currently present. Recent research suggests that rats may also possess this cognitive capability.

Scientists have discovered that rats have the ability to mentally navigate through familiar spaces, implying that they possess a form of imagination.

According to Chongxi Lai, the primary researcher at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, their study is the first to demonstrate that animals have the ability to consciously activate their brain’s mental maps of faraway locations.

According to him, this is a crucial element in a particular kind of creative thinking that allows us to envision ourselves in a specific scenario in the past or future.

In a published article in the journal Science, the scientists explain that the hippocampus region of the brain holds a mental representation or map of previously visited surroundings. As a person navigates through specific areas within this environment, certain neurons in the brain become active.

Nonetheless, people have the ability to mentally envision moving through familiar locations, such as the hallways of their office, whenever they please.

Researchers used a brain-machine interface, surgically implanted into rats, to investigate if they could perform a similar task and determine the underlying mechanism. The rats were placed on a treadmill ball in a 360-degree virtual reality arena and given an on-screen goal to run towards.

As the rodents scurried and the ball on the treadmill rotated, the visual representation of the animal’s position in the virtual reality (VR) setting changed on the screen, mimicking a real-life running scenario. Upon reaching the designated end point, the rats were rewarded and the position of the goal was altered within the VR environment. This sequence was then repeated.

In the first stage, the team documented the behavior in the hippocampus of the animals. Afterwards, they utilized a computer program to convert this neural behavior into distinct positions in the virtual reality setting.

For the subsequent procedure, the scientists disconnected the treadmill from the virtual reality setup. As a result, the rats were unable to reach the target by running on the treadmill and had to rely solely on their brain activity to navigate through the virtual environment.

Using real-time analysis of the hippocampus activity in rats, the team was able to continuously update the screen every 100 milliseconds with the animals’ current position in the virtual reality environment, based on their brain activity.

The findings demonstrate that the rats were able to reach the goal solely through their brain activity.

In a following trial, the researchers presented the rats with a “Jedi challenge” where the rodents remained still but were tasked with controlling an object on a virtual screen to reach a specific goal using their brain signals. Once again, the rats successfully completed the task.

Tim Harris, a co-author of the research conducted at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, proposed that in humans, the hippocampus plays a crucial role in connecting imagination and memory to real-life experiences.

“It is accurate to state that the rats do have an imagination,” he stated.

Source: theguardian.com