Feeds

Scientists train Japanese-speaking rats

Well, sort of...

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Neuroscientists at the University of Barcelona have discovered that rats can - with a little encouragement - tell the difference between Dutch and Japanese. Sadly, this newfound linguistic ability does not extend to actually understanding what is being said, thereby thwarting hopes that rat-brain-controlled stealth attack drones could be guided onto al-Qaeda strongholds by the dulcet tones of Donald Rumsfeld.

Rather, the said rodents are able to differentiate the rhythmic properties of the two languages - a process which the boffins believe may give clues as to how human babies develop language skills, according to a New Scientist report.

A team led by neuroscientist Juan Toro trained the rats to "recognise either Dutch or Japanese - by pressing a lever in response to a short sentence - and then exposed them to sentences they had not heard before, in both languages". They discovered that while their guinea rats could tell the difference between the languages "as long as the sentences were computer-synthesised or both languages were spoken by the same person", playing the sentences backwards or having them spoken by different people threw the poor animals completely.

Toro says this is because exposing rats to a different voice makes the job "too difficult" for the little blighters. As regards playing sentences backwards, Toro notes that this also throws human infants and monkeys - as previous experiments proved. Toro admitted he didn't know "what exactly is lost by playing speech backwards". We make no comment.

The bottom line is that rats are not apparently developing the ability to speak. Toro reckons they probably have "some mechanism suited for auditory processing in general" which they evolved "to sense sound patterns that might warn of predators approaching or changing predator behaviour". Human speech may too have begun as a similar evolutionary device, Toro concludes. ®

Related stories

The rise of the rat-brain controlled android
Peruvians develop super-tasty guinea pig
Killer hamster ices owner
Aussie boffins probe lesbian cows
Sheep pine for absent friends: official
Sheep like happy, smiley people: official
Inside the mind of the gay sheep

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.