FraidyRat: A Virtual Module Examining the Neural Circuitry Underlying Fear Conditioning
William Grisham, Natalie Schottler, Jorge Soto, and Franklin B. Krasne
FraidyRat is a teaching tool that allows students to investigate the neural basis of fear conditioning and extinction using a virtual rat with a virtual brain. FraidyRat models well-known phenomena at both a behavioral and neural level. Students use virtual versions of tract tracing, systemic and intracerebrally infused drugs, neural recording, and electrical stimulation to understand the neural substrates underlying the observed behavior. This module helps students develop critical thinking skills in order to deduce immediate cause and effect as well as inductive reasoning to grasp the broader scheme. This module utilizes scaffolded instruction and formative assessment to shape the thinking of students as they unfold and discover the neural mechanisms responsible for fear conditioning and extinction in FraidyRat, which largely reflect what is found in
real rats. Experience with this three-week module resulted in students showing significant gains in content knowledge as well as a trend toward gains in critical thinking. An attitudinal questionnaire showed that students had an overall positive experience. This module can be replicated at any institution with just a computer. All materials are available at: https://mdcune.psych.ucla.edu/modules/fraidy-rat.