I’m a contributor to Very Short List: Science, the latest offshoot of the VSL brand. (David Dobbs is another contributor.) For those who don’t know, VSL is a very short email on something interesting sent daily to your inbox. We recently featured this paper in the Science channel:
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.