Rats Learn to Love Playing Hide and Seek

Mouse realizing it has been found in hide and seek.

via. flickr

Mouse realizing it has been found in hide and seek.

Hide-and-seek is a game that almost every kid knows the rules of. Players can’t switch from “seeker” to “hider” during the game and the game ends when all hiders are found by the seeker. Apparently, rats enjoy playing this game with people and obey the rules.

For weeks, German neuroscientist, Michael Brecht, taught rats how to play hide-and-seek. He got this idea from YouTube due to videos with pet owners saying that their animals love playing hide-and-seek. As rats are known to play many rough-and-tumble games, Brecht wondered rats could play a more complex game such as hide-and-seek.  As far as scientists can tell, rats love to play this game with people.

The experiment was conducted in a 30-square-meter room equipped with an array of boxes ranging from cardboard to transparent plastic. There were seven hiding locations for rats and three for the gamemaster, Annika Stefanie Reinhold. After weeks of teaching, the rodents were taught to find a spot and wait to be found and take turns with humans. The following days, the rats often checked places where people had hidden the previous game, stayed silent while hiding, and figured out transparent boxes weren’t ideal hiding spots.

A rat was placed in a closed box when the game began. When the rat was the “seeker” it would know to go out of the box when it was opened with remote control and look for Reinhold. When she was found, the rat was reworded by petting and tickling; no food was rewarded. If the rat was the “hider” Reinhold left the box open and crouched beside it while the rat chose one out of the seven hiding places. 

In two weeks, five of six rats learned how to play the game- which meant not switching roles in the middle of the game. This is surprising as the rats had to play different roles, follow rules, and decide the best place to hide.

This experiment was conducted to study play behavior in animals which is a vital trait in all mammals. Neuroscientists studying the rats were surprised to see rats so engaged in their tasks. The rats jumped for joy and made shrieks of delight (which were so high pitched that they couldn’t be heard by humans) when they found their human. Even when food was offered for a reward after the game, the rats didn’t accept it and seemed to play the game again.

Even though this study just took place, humans have been playing hide-and-seek with rats for hundreds of years. Rats have to live their lives with humans despite the danger. When the Black Plague occurred, rats were blamed. Today, if these rodents are spotted, the most likely outcome would be pest control called. The different thing about this experiment is that people didn’t scream when finding the rats.