Northwestern study: ‘Playground’ psychotherapy reduces depression in rats

Rats genetically bred to be depressed improved greatly after spending a month in a stimulating “playground” with toys and hiding places, Northwestern University researchers reported.

The study, published Tuesday in the Translational Psychiatry journal, set out to determine whether a fun environment would decrease depression or a stressful environment would increase depression, said lead study investigator Eva Redei, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study found that rats genetically bred to be depressed saw a “dramatic” reduction in depression-like behavior after undergoing rat psychotherapy: spending one month in a “playground” — large cages where they could play with toys, climb and hide, Redei said.

“I thought that yes, maybe they would show some reduction, but not as dramatic as what we showed,” Redei said. If the rats were human, she said they would no longer be considered clinically depressed.

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