They clearly understood the rules of the game, and played strategically. When seeking, they searched systematically, beginning with past hiding locations.
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When hiding, they chose opaque boxes instead of transparent ones and kept quieter. In retrospect, it was the perfect game for uniting two different species. Read: How rats remake coral reefs. Why did the rats play along? After all, for two decades researchers have known that rats enjoy being tickled and react by producing ultrasonic chirps that can be compared to laughter. But Reinhold found that once discovered, the rats would often run away and re-hide, delaying their reward and prolonging the game itself.
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She and her colleagues believe that rather than pursuing rewards, the rats were playing for the sake of it. They played because they had fun. The rats also behaved quite unlike rodents that take part in typical studies for typical rewards. When conditioned with food, rats are usually silent and can tirelessly perform hundreds of trials.
Autocurricula and emergent behavior
Certainly, other species do sometimes lack mental skills that one would assume they had, and calling for objectivity is reasonable. One neuron, for example, went off only when the rat was sealed inside the starting box at the beginning of seeking rounds.
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