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Time-keeping rats

A collaboration between French and Polish researchers has revealed that rats can estimate passing time and evaluate how well they did while completing a task.

Researchers at the Institut des Neurosciences Paris-Saclay, France, and the Polish Academy of Sciences, developed a task where rats were taught to press a lever for at least 3.2 seconds to receive a reward.

The reward was also put in a different place depending on the timing accuracy of the rat, and they learnt to go to one location or another by analysing how precise their timing had been, often within milliseconds of the set time.

“When we saw the first results it was disbelief. We were even thinking, are the rats somehow tricking us? Our results add a whole new richness to the way that rats represent time [in their minds]” lead author Dr Tadeusz Kononowicz told New Scientist.

The team hope to use this information to improve understanding of the mechanisms involved in how animals and humans estimate the passing of time.

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