Mice turned out to be as smart as children – here's the proof

Employees at Johns Hopkins University, who had to work with mice for a long time, came to the conclusion that the mental abilities of these animals are greatly underestimated. They, like people, can put forward hypotheses and test them, which indicates the high intelligence of rodents. It has long been known that mice do not perform well on some cognitive tests. But according to scientists, this is not due to the fact that they are not smart enough, but to the peculiarity of their thinking. Rodents choose strategies for solving problems that people often regard as mistakes.

Mice turned out to be as smart as children - here's the proof. Scientists have found evidence of strategic thinking in mice. Photo.

Scientists have found evidence of strategic thinking in mice

Why mice are smarter than they thought

Some previous experiments have shown that mice are actually bad at some tasks. However, scientists suggested that they actually knew more about problem solving than it seems at first glance, but made mistakes either due to stress or purposefully – they used a «strategy of research and testing their knowledge».

To find out, scientists conducted a study, the results of which were published in the journal Current Biology. The authors of the work provided the mice with a wheel, which they had to spin left or right, depending on the sound they heard. That is, the mice had to determine by sound which way the wheel should be turned. For the correct answer they were given a reward in the form of a treat.

When the mice heard the sound, they made a slight turn of the wheel to the left and then turned it to the right, making a seemingly mistake. Scientists noticed that the mice acted purposefully. According to the authors of the work, this is the research strategy. Rodents are guided by this logic — “I’ll go left for a while, figure everything out, and then go right for a while, bye.” From this we can conclude that mice are actually more strategic than you might think. But is this really so or are scientists mistaken?

Why mice are smarter than they thought. During the experiment, the mouse must spin the wheel correctly for a reward. Photo.

During the experiment, the mouse must correctly rotate the wheel for a reward

Mice have strategic thinking

One might assume that researchers are simply attributing abilities to rodents that they do not possess. However, to exclude this possibility, the authors of the work continued the study, but slightly changed the experiment – they excluded reward from the test. The results found that when the mouse acted correctly but did not receive a reward, when retested, it doubled the correct answer. That is, the rodents turned the wheel in the right direction twice.

Mice have strategic thinking. When solving a problem, mice act according to strategy. Photo.

When solving a problem, mice act according to a strategy

If an animal has a model for solving a problem, the lack of reward should violate its expectations, the researchers report. This should influence behavior on subsequent trials. That is, the animal is guided by this logic – “I expected to receive a reward, but I didn’t, so let me test my knowledge and see how correct it is.” Such thinking naturally leads to a change in strategy.

If the mice did not have a problem-solving model, the lack of reward would have no effect on behavior. The mice would continue to act in the same way as before, that is, solve the problem poorly. According to the study authors, this strategy of mice can be compared to babies who do not speak. The actions of such children are often also exploratory in nature; they can test their hypotheses in various ways.

Mice have strategic thinking. In terms of thinking, mice resemble babies. Photo.

In terms of thinking, mice resemble babies

As the scientists say, during the research they had to become a bit of a “mouse psychologist” to interpret their behavior. As in the case of infants, it was necessary to draw conclusions about mental processes only on the basis of the actions performed. However, in the end, they managed to obtain convincing evidence that their conclusions were correct.

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It must be said that recently scientists have often revised their ideas about the cognitive abilities of various animals. First of all, they came to the conclusion that all vertebrates and even some insects are conscious. Some animals simply amaze with their mental abilities. For example, it was recently discovered that crows have recursive thinking, which was previously thought to be characteristic only of humans. As a result, these birds turned out to be even smarter than monkeys. Therefore, we often simply underestimate our “smaller brothers.”