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Rats drinking Jell-O shots show risky behavior

By James G. Robertson, National Geographic Digital Media

New research by the University of Washington gives new meaning to the term, “party animal.”

Almost a week after announcing successful gene therapy treatments for color blindness in monkeys, University of Washington researchers are now announcing that rats given alcohol during adolescence are more prone to risk-taking in their adult lives.

Rat with Jell-O shot

Photo: An adolescent rat with his Jell-O shot.

Courtesy University of Washington.

The rats were given a gel that contained 10 percent ethanol each day for 20 days, and then were trained three weeks later to press a lever that gave either a predictable, constant reward or an unpredictable, larger reward.  The boozed-up rats showed a preference for the unpredictable reward, while the sober rats went with the lever that gave them the most treats.

The same rats were also tested three months later with the same results.

“It is a novel concept to think that early exposure might have long-term

cognitive effects. But we can’t test this on people. This model using

rats lends support to causal link between early alcohol use and later

increased risky decision making,” said Nicholas Nasrallah, one of the co-authors of the study, in a statement by the University of Washington.