I'm so glad you posted this!! I was about to do the same thing because we were just talking about this in my Behavior Genetics course. So cool that it's epigenetic and dependent on mothering technique.
Epigenetic things are so cool. However, I feel like while it would have an impact on how rats calm down from stressful events, this isn't the gene that controls exactly how rats react to stressful events, right? Personality "genes" still have to play some sort of part...
"you can also turn an anxious rat into a more relaxed rat by spicing up its living quarters"
what exactly does it mean by "spicing up"? I have one that's really anxious and I'd love to do something to help him be less anxious, but I need a bit more guidance on what exactly they did. Is there a more complete version of this study somewhere?
Dan, it probably refers to the fact that rats feel more comfortable in spaces that aren't wide open. So, if you have a cage with a fairly large floor that is completely bare with no hiding places you can help them relax (even if it's just a little bit) and feel less exposed. That's why you'll see people with really "cluttered" cage setups. The more, the better.
Dan, this article is great, but can't be taken in a vacuum. There have been studies about rats stress levels when you have a group in a sparse lab cages-basically just a plexi container with food/water/substrate vs rats in larger environments with chew toys, hides and wheels. Obviously rats in a larger, more interactive environment do well-as us pet owners could of told them There are studies in social behaviors of rats as well-those that were isolated at 3 weeks and those set in groups of 4. Those in groups are less aggressive and better at handling social changes. There are a lot studies on rats.
I'm guessing you already have a spiced up cage, as far as lab conditions are concerned. Most of our pet rats are living the life of luxury. Things you can do to spice it up even further? Hide healthy treats to make them forage. Hang food up high where they have to work to get it. Put up ropes, bridges ect to encourage climbing. Add dig boxes-hide a treat in the bottom of it. Grow a little patch of wheat grass for them. Change things up in their cage regularly. Make sure if you have anxious rats to keep some familiar things they love in the cage though. You want them to get used to new stuff to help them with their anxiety, but you don't want them to have all they are familiar with taken away-balance.
Rats, like dogs also seem to do well when given "jobs". Like small tricks, some clicker training, ect.
My 4 boys seem to go along the spectrum. Buddy is a total sweet heart, he'll sit in your lap or on your should for 20 minutes and just lick you or groom himself. Zeeky will cuddle for short periods of time, but likes just hanging out on the couch to be near me or running up real quick to pee on me. Nibbler is a bit more skittish but he's coming around and has recently started to groom me and pee on me. Tempy lives up to his name. It was suppose to be short for Templeton but it should have been short for temperamental. He's weird. Some times he'll jump up on my lap and let me pet him and other times he'll dart away if I motion in his direction or just say his name. He has never groomed me and only seems to pee on me after one of the others does it first as some sort of competition thing. I'm still not 100% sure he's accepted me or if he just tolerates me as an annoyance. He's the one I'd like to make a little friendlier. That injection they talk about giving them is not something you can have done at a vet is it? That's just some lab experiment thing?