University of Lethbridge study finds experimenter’s gender affects rats, could impact study findings

Lab rats lean out of their enclosure. A study from the University of Lethbridge finds the experimenter’s gender can cause higher anxiety responses in female rats.

Lab rodents may have ratted on themselves, exposing they’re not impartial when it comes to their handlers.

According to findings from University of Lethbridge researchers, male experimenters create high-anxiety responses in female rats, potentially impacting results in studies.

“As a scientist, you’re always concerned about the confounding variables in science, and so we’re looking at the future in order to control these unwanted factors,” said Dr. Jamshid Faraji, a researcher in the university’s department of neuroscience who contributed to the study.

Rats were handled by experimenters of different gender for five minutes a day over a 10-day period before undergoing mildly stressful situations.

Using infrared thermography and blood samples, researchers found female rats in the presence of men produced higher hormone levels related to the stress response and showed more anxiety-related behaviours.

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“We are surprised, sort of, but we’re more glad to see this effect in order to establish a better study future,” Faraji said.

“We cannot avoid these effects, but we really have to do vigorous research to understand the underpinnings of the responses and phenomena that we’ve been seeing,” said Dr. Gerlinde Metz, a U of L professor of neuroscience also involved in the study.

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Faraji doesn’t believe this casts aside previous research involving rodents.

“This is not about the past or previous studies, this is about the future,” he said.

But Metz is encouraging experimenters to avoid stepping in the same rat trap moving forward.

“They have to make sure, therefore at least we’re reporting who’s doing the observations and the assessments in the laboratory, in the literature,” Metz said.

The researchers believe taking an average of the results after a series of observations could reduce human influence in studies and the variable may be eliminated in the future with the possibilities presented by robotics.

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