Mice carrying a human brain gene seem to be able to find their way through the maze to reach the chocolate faster than their lesser counterparts.
The human gene seemed to confer the ability of unconscious or procedural learning in the mice, as also the ability to move between conscious and unconscious action, reports Reuters.
Neuroscientists led by Christiane Schreiweis and Ann Graybiel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology worked with hundreds of mice genetically engineered to carry the human version of Foxp2, a gene linked to speech and language.
The mice were trained to find their way through the maze using two options: one was visible furniture, and the other a feel of the floor.
In the former they learned to turn left at a certain intersection, or right at another. In the latter, similar training told them to turn right if the floor was smooth or left if rough.
Mice endowed with the human gene learned the route in seven days where regular mice took 11 days, scientists reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But when one of the options was removed, both types took the same time.
The scientists interpreted this as the human gene increasing cognitive flexibility which allows the brain to move seamlessly from conscious to unconscious learning, just like humans navigate vehicles without conscious thinking after using the same road regularly.
The gene associated with language allows children to similarly move from conscious mimicking to automatic speaking.