Despite their wacky brains, these intelligent animals seem to respond to the drug in a very similar way to humans.
Dölen is a neuroscientist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who studies how the cells and chemicals in animal brains influence animals’ social lives. Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, interests her because it’s known to make people feel more sociable, more interested in others, and less defensive. The same effects also occur in rats and mice—the animals that Dölen usually studies.
But octopuses are very different creatures. They’re clearly intelligent and their behavior is undoubtedly sophisticated, but their brains have a completely different architecture than those of mammals—for one thing, they’re shaped like donuts. “It’s organized much more like a snail’s brain than ours,” Dölen says. With such a dissimilar anatomy, she wondered whether these animals would respond to drugs in unpredictable ways. And to find out, she needed a way of assessing how sociable an octopus is.