"Are you smarter than a mouse?" This was one of the intriguing topics presented at this week's Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, on research done by J.F. Gysner, M. Manglani, N. Escalona, R. Hamilton, M. Taylor, J. Paffman, E. Johnson, and L.A. Gabel, all based out of Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.
If you are a lab mouse, then you are undoubtedly familiar with mazes. Specifically, you’ve probably logged some time in a Hebb-Williams maze. For decades, it’s been the go-to research model: a spacial-visual maze that centers on twelve standard problems, which differ based on the learning/memory task researchers have assigned to you and your rodent buddies.
But the Hebb-Williams maze is not solely reserved for our tiny rodent friends. Its friendly confines have also been used to test the mettle of ‘rats, cats, rabbits, ferrets, mice, and monkeys.’
The Lafayette College team had a few questions on their minds. Would it alter test results to use a virtual model instead? And if not, could they run humans through the simulation and compare their performances against mice?
Clearly, a virtual maze is far more desirable in terms of space and construction costs. Also, it’s not nearly as problematic as shrinking humans down to fit into a mouse maze. (Which, for one thing, opens itself up to all manner of tired movie plots.)
Ninety-eight humans, both male and female, participated in the experiment. The study focused on two age groups: children aged 8-12, and young adults aged 18-21. The participants were screened and evaluated on their video game knowledge to eliminate any pre-trial skill biases.
In order to ensure that chocolate pellets would be enough of an incentive to run the maze, researchers skimped on the food until the mice reached 85% body weight. (Apparently the humans needed no coercion to run the virtual maze for chocolate pellets.)
Ultimately, when it came to the final showdown, humans from both age groups were faster and less prone to mistakes than their small furry counterparts. However, taking controls for species into account, the humans and mice performed “similarly”, suggesting their performance could be compared in future experiments.
Additionally, it turns out that using a computer-generated maze on humans did not alter their results. This was particularly good news for the Lafayette researchers, but perhaps not such a boon for the would-be producers of Honey I Shrunk the Kids 3.
So lucky for your self-esteem, it turns out you are smarter than a mouse, at least where maze-running is concerned. That is, until the playing field is leveled and then, well, say hello to your new competitors, the irrepressible Mickey and Minnie.