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."