Oh what a feeler!

Rats use their whiskers much like we use fingertips to feel objects, processing sensations in the same part of the brain, a new study has found.

Rat inside

Rats use their whiskers much like humans use their fingertips to feel objects, but despite these great differences they both process those sensations in the same part of the brain and in the same way, new research has found.

The finding may shed new light on how many animals use their vital sense of touch to make sense of the world around them, suggests the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"As nocturnal animals, rats use their whiskers much like the blind use walking sticks: to navigate their surroundings, localise objects and judge their size, shape and roughness," says one of the authors Dr Ehsan Arabzadeh, of the UNSW School of Psychology's Neural Coding Laboratory.

As the rat twitches its whiskers back and forth across the object, it generates a representation of the object within the barrel cortex. Rats depend on their whiskers even more than their eyes to "see" the world around them, much as bats use sound.

Read the full story at the Faculty of Science newsroom.

Media contact: Bob Beale | UNSW Faculty of Science | 0411 705 435 | bbeale@unsw.edu.au