According to a new study, hugs from rat mothers make baby rats less likely to grow up into little rat drug addicts. Go home and hug your rats, everybody!
A Duke press release (via Strollerderby) reports that researchers got one group of rat mothers to pay extra attention to their babies, by removing the babies from the cage for short periods of time and then putting them back in. They let another group raise their kids normally. Then they put both groups of ratlings through an experiment designed to test their cravings for morphine. The extra-loved rats liked morphine just fine the first time they got it, but once it was withdrawn, their cravings disappeared over time. But the normal, average-love rat babies maintained cravings for much longer.
The study authors say the extra doses of maternal touch upped the rat babies' levels of interleukin-10, an anti-inflammatory molecule that also reduces cravings. In a followup experiment, when the researchers gave normal rats a drug that stimulated the production of this molecule, they were way less into morphine. Says study coauthor Mark Hutchinson, "Two exciting things have been uncovered by this groundbreaking research. One, we have proven a mother's touch changes brain function and two, we have demonstrated an exciting way to intervene in the cycle of drug abuse." It's not clear whether either hugs or interleukin drugs would work in humans, but if you want to keep your rats off drugs, you should probably give them a lot of affection. Oh, and keep them away from your hamsters.