Sometimes We Stick With The Familiar Despite It Being Dysfunctional
(Some interesting lessons from some potentially unethical studies on rats.)
In a conversation today I recollected a study that showed that rats will return to an abusive home (a certainty of electric shock) because it is familiar. Importantly they would rather do this than explore the uncertainty of something new.
This seems to suggest that the early learned experience is such that rats (and potentially people) might prefer the certainty and familiarity of misery than confront the fear, uncertainty and chaos of something new, despite the fact that what is new may be better.
This seems to make sense given the experience of children who return to abusive parents and adults who return to abusive partners.
I wish I could find the original scientific article and referencing and would be grateful to anyone who can advise. I have however listed some similar and related references in the comments.
As part of the same conversation I learned of Drowning Rats, Resilience and the Power of Hope (full details included in references in the comments).
In summary, in the 1950s, Curt Richter, a professor at Johns Hopkins, did a famous drowning rats psychology experiment. This experiment, though cruel, demonstrated the power of hope and resilience in overcoming difficult situations.
To test his hypothesis Curt selected a new cohort of rats who were all similar to each other. Again, he introduced them into buckets and observed them as they progressed towards drowning. This time though, he noted the moment at which they gave up then, just before they died, he rescued them. He saved them, held them for a while and helped them recover.
He then placed them back into the buckets and started the experiments all over again. And he discovered that his hypothesis was right. When the rats were placed back into the water they swam and swam, for much longer than they had the first time they were placed in the buckets. The only thing that had changed was that they had been saved before, so had hope this time.
The conclusion from the first experiment suggests the idea of learned helplessness and ostensibly giving-up and accepting a dysfunctional fate. From the second experiment that giving them ‘hope’ will encourage them to try. This surely has some implications for understanding dysfunctional habits, and the importance of giving hope.
Tim HJ Rogers
ICF Coach, IoD Mentor, Mediation Practitioner, Change Practitioner
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Volunteer for James Ark Jersey, Breaking The Cycle Of Fatherless Homes
The effect of electric shock on rats’ choice between familiar and unfamiliar maze
What Is Operant Conditioning Theory?
Inescapable shock and food-competition dominance in rats
Drowning Rats Psychology Experiment: Resilience and the Power of Hope