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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Nov. 29, 1995)
The rat stuff
Trained rodents strut in Olympic finale
By Ted Taylor
Doc doesn’t look like a potential
She’s pretty small, pretty light. She
has a long, white tail and a very small
But at Nebraska Wesleyan’s 19th
annual Rat Olympics Saturday, Doc
has a decent chance of bringing home
the gold ... or at least a snack.
She is one of 31 “rathletes” train
ing for Saturday’s competition, the
finale of a psychology learning and
The rat games began in 1975, and
Ken Keith, chairman of the Wesleyan
psychology department, took over in
“It has changed a little,” he said,
“but it seemed like a worthwhile thing
All semester, students have spent
about an hour with the rodents each
day, using theories learned in class to
Students are graded on the
semester’s laboratory activities, Keith
said, not the quality of the rat’s perfor
It has a serious purpose, ne said,
“and it’s a nice way to lighten up the
work in the lab.”
Doc belongs to senior psychology
major Nicole Long, who says her little
competitor might not win anything
but will put up a good fight.
“I don’t know if she’ll be coming
away with the gold,” Long said, “but
she’ll be consistent in all the events.”
The all-female competition con
sists of seven events: the 5-yard dash,
the 4-foot tightrope walk, weight lift
ing, 5-yard hurdles, the long j ump, the
5-foot rope climb and the speed press.
Doc’s best event, Long said
proudly, is the tightrope walk.
“Through shaping and reinforce
ment, we get them to do what we
want;’’ Long said. “We give them re
wards — like food pellets — when
they complete tasks.”
But getting the rats to cooperate
can be tricky.
“They have been easy to work with
for the most part,” she said. “But
they’re just like humans. There are
days when they don’t want to do a
Keith offers advice to his frustrated
rat trainers in the form of a quote from
Fred Keller, former Columbia Uni
versity behaviorist: “The rat is always
right. The rat does exactly what we
teach them to do.”
Keith and his students said the Rat
Olympics were a fun way to learn
about behavior. And they are learn
“It teaches important skills about
the application of behavior principles
to teaching and managing complex
Sophomore bio-psychology major
Adam Christensen called his experi
ence with his rathlete, Eliza Jane, very
“It has definitely helped a lot with
the application of the theories from
the class we’re taking,” he said.
Junior bio-psychology major An
gela Murray said she never thought
she would be able to stomach touch
ing a rat.
“If it wasn’t required, I probably
wouldn’t have taken it,” she said. “But
it has been a great learning experi
ence, and it’s helped me get over a
Murray saidherrat, Snowball,also
was a favorite in the tightrope compe
“She can’t do the weight lifting at
But what will happen Saturday
evening, after all the awards have been
handed out and the months of strenu
ous training have come to an end?
Don’t look for Doc and Snowball
on the front of a Wheaties box. Keith
said the students can adopt the rats at
the end of the semester for $9. Those
who aren’t adopted go to science
classes at other schools, to researchor
... to zoos where they become food for
large birds or snakes.
Snowball, for example, will go to
an elementary school.
“My momis a second-grade teacher
in Ord,” Murray said. “So they are
going to adopt her.”
The rat games begin at 8 a.m. in the
Great Hall of the Smith-Curtis Class
room-Administration Building on the
Nebraska Wesleyan campus. It is free
and open to the public.
Remember, this is only an exhibi
tion; please, no wagering.
Friday, December 1, 1995
Nebraska vs. Georgia Southern
Bring your ticket and enter through
the lower level southeast door to get
your seat for the Georgia Southern
game and have dinner with Danny
The first 1000 students through the door receive
a FREE t-shirt, and
a FREE hotdog and Coke,
You can also win great prizes through trivia questions.
Bob Devaney Sports Center
NU inercollegiate student-athletes and validated student ticket holders are not eligible to receive t-shirt, hotdog , Coke or prizes.
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