Lambert works with the rats to further explore those insights. In her latest research, she and her team challenged the rats to drive small, plastic cars — a skill they learned readily.
Through measuring the hormones and chemical indicators in the rats’ brains, Lambert showed that the rats find both relaxation and satisfaction in their new skill. Those who learned to drive had significantly reduced stress compared to those who acted as passengers.
These findings are consistent with Lambert's previous studies, which found similarly reduced stress in rats after they exerted real effort to find food.
Lambert's research has significant implications for the mental health field. Through better understanding the brain's neuroplasticity and its reactions to stress, we may discover more effective treatments for depression and life-changing ways to reduce stress.
Dr. Kelly Lambert is a professor of behavioral neuroscience in the department of psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences and past president of the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society. Her research focuses on how experiences, lifestyles, and environments influence the brain's ability to adapt.