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All Psychology Department lab rats find home after participation in study

The lab rats from Millersville’s Psychology program are being released from a year-long study to be adopted by Millersville students. All the rats were designated a Harry Potter house, and all their names reflect those of characters in the Harry Potter universe. Photo courtesy of Millersville University

Alexander Bershtein
Staff Writer

Recently in Millersville’s Psychology program in Luek Hall, a study was conducted on positive reinforcement. The subjects of this research were sixteen female Long-Evans rats who began their participation when they were 24 days old. The rats are up for adoption to the local community now that the study has ended, and all of them have found a home.

All sixteen rats are named after characters from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Dr. Kelly Banna explained that eight were designated as “Gryffindor,” four were “Slytherin,” four “Ravenclaw,” but none were “Hufflepuff.” Banna said that they demonstrated friendly natures, inquisitiveness, and playfulness.

Although there are courses that involve a rat lab component, such as Dr. Banna’s Advanced Laboratory in Learning and Behavioral Analysis, these rats were not part of any course curriculum. Nonetheless, students were part of the study that the rats were the subjects for, which was housing conditions and reward value. 

Dr. Banna explained the intended goal of study for the project: “half of the rats were housed individually (which is typical for lab rats) and half were group housed in larger cages with toys (four rats per cage). We wanted to know whether these different housing conditions changed how hard the animals were willing to work for rewards (i.e., how many lever presses they were willing to make to earn a reward).” 

Students were involved in the simple duties of the experiment, such as cleaning the rats’ cages, to the scientific aspects like observation and analysis. Students that were involved included undergraduates in psychology, a graduate in clinical psychology, and two students who used the basis of the experiment to write their psychology honors theses. It was an opportunity for psychology majors of various levels to get direct experience in scientific research.

Currently, all the rats have found new homes. Two were given homes by two current Millersville students, and another two were adopted by an alumnus of the psychology department. Currently, Dr. Banna has heard back from five adopters, and all of them have told her that the rats are doing well.

Dr. Banna acknowledged that this adoption of lab rats from the psychology department will happen again. She said that students with interest in adopting future lab rats would have to attain positive veterinary reference checks before they are allowed to be listed as potential adopters. 

Dr. Banna plans to contact those listed when adoptions become needed again, and she believes that the next time to adopt a rat will not be until later this year in December, as well as possibly in January and the Summer of the following year in 2020.