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Feeling Like a Rat

Rats use whiskers to feel around in the dark. They navigate by "whisking" — moving their whiskers rapidly back and forth. Humans, however, don't have whiskers. But could people learn to navigate in the dark using artificial whiskers? That was the question posed by a recent experiment published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The researchers attached plastic whiskers to the fingers (not the cheeks, unfortunately) of blindfolded volunteers. These volunteers were then asked to try to identify the relative position of several poles on either side of them. The researchers discovered that the volunteers skill at this task improved significantly over time. So they were learning to use whiskers just as a rat would. The practical value of all this is that the researchers hope to develop finger whiskers for blind people.

Incidentally, if you read the abstract of the experiment, you would never know it had anything to do with rats and whiskers. The researchers describe their experiment as a study of "motor-sensory interactions in humans using a novel object localization task that enabled monitoring the relevant overt motor and sensory variables."

Posted By: Alex | Date: Thu Nov 08, 2012 | Number of Comments: 8
Category: Animals, Science, Experiments
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Comments
Listed in chronological order. Newest comments at the end.
What a unique idea! Now all they have to do is develop a pair of shoes that have built in whiskers so the blind people don't trip over, oh, say a raised cobble stone in the walk.

BTW, cats also use their whiskers to navigate through tight spaces. If the whiskers fit rest of the hairball infested, oxygen wasting, chunk of animated carbon does.
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 11/08/12 at 09:48 AM
"Humans, however, don't have whiskers."

Not according to George Carlin. Gabby Hayes had them. However, Lenin had a beard.

As for the results of the research, finger whiskers for the blind? How stiff do they have to be in order to work? I wouldn't want to be poked in the eye by anything like that.
Posted by KDP in Madill, OK on 11/08/12 at 10:20 AM
Everyone who knows who Gabby Hayes was raise your hand (if arthritis hasn't set in yet). tongue wink
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 11/08/12 at 11:09 AM
Does not sound practical to me. Expat, I am pretty sure I know who he is. smile
Posted by patty in Ohio, USA on 11/08/12 at 08:37 PM
Gabby Hayes? Didn't he play Festus on gunsmoke?
Posted by Tyrusguy on 11/08/12 at 09:02 PM
Bzzzzzz! Sorry, contestant #1, that was the wrong answer!
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 11/08/12 at 09:05 PM
Just checked his wiki page and see why i confused the two. hint: it was the whiskers.
red face
Posted by Tyrusguy on 11/08/12 at 09:15 PM
I wonder about rats but I just dont like them!
Posted by rat bait in Australia on 11/23/12 at 06:36 PM
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