It turns out that humans aren’t the only mammals addicted to taking selfies.
A French artist spent two months training rats to press a small shutter button of a camera pointed directly at them in a photo booth-like machine – found the rodents pressed it several hundred times.
The experiment was inspired by the famous psychologist Dr Burrhus Frederic Skinner, who used positive reinforcement to teach rats to push a lever in a ‘Skinner box’ – and Augustin Lignier repeated the study, but with selfies.
“I was trying to understand how experiments from the 50s could influence behavior now that we have social media and smartphones,” Lingnier told DailyMail.com.
Inspired by Skinner’s box, Lignier built a tower structure with a camera at the top and a mechanism that released a small dose of sugar each time the rat pressed the shutter.
“At some point, the rats stopped taking the sugar,” said the artist, as the animals realized that they got the same dopamine just by pressing the button and just playfully took pictures.
A French artist spent two months training rats to press a tiny shutter button on a camera pointing directly at them in a photo booth-like machine
This rat hit it several hundred times – the most out of the two rodents
The revised Skinner’s Box has a camera, flashlight, computer hard drive and a sugar bank attached to a wheel, along with food and water.
Building the transparent box took about two months, which also included testing and adjusting the structure.
Lignier said the rats also damaged the structure during training and he had to make several repairs.
Then he set to work teaching the rats to take selfies by pressing the small button – training was done for several hours a day.
The rats were then taken out of the box for about a week and then put back in to do the process again.
The artist initially had a screen in front to show the animals their photos, but removed it after they did not respond to the images.
“They didn’t respond because they don’t pass the mirror tests,” Lignier.
He watched the rats press the button every half minute further into the experiment.
Augustin Lignier used a Skinner’s box, which was developed by a famous psychologist, to test animal behavior. The revised Skinner’s Box has a camera, flashlight, computer hard drive and a sugar bank attached to a wheel, along with food and water
Lignier built a tower structure with a camera at the top and a mechanism that releases a small dose of sugar every time the rat presses the shutter
“At some point, the rats stopped taking the sugar,” the artist said, as the animals realized they were getting the same dopamine just by pressing the button
However, Lignier also found that the multicolored rat pressed the button more than the white one – even after he stopped taking the sugar.
Skinner, a well-known American psychologist and behaviorist, conducted several experiments with rats throughout his career, particularly focusing on operant conditioning.
His famous Skinner box, created in the 1930s, allowed him to study animals in controlled environments.
About 20 years after the structure was built, Skinner placed rats in a room equipped with a lever and a food dispenser.
The lever, when pressed by the rat, will release a food pellet. Skinner observed how rats learned to associate pressing the lever with obtaining food, which led to an increase in lever-pressing behavior.
Things like slot machines used parts of the experiment to get people to play and spend money – and the same goes for social media companies to get users to browse, like and comment.
Selfie Rats deploys a three-stage experiment with a group of rodents. Trained with a sugar dispensing system connected to a camera, a group of rats produce images of themselves by interacting with the photographic apparatus
At first driven by the practiced compulsion to eat sugar, they end up just playfully taking pictures
Lignier said he’s trying to understand how experiments from the 50s can influence behavior as we have social media and smartphones
Social media addiction has become common in our society, with the National Addiction Center recognizing it as a similar behavioral addiction.
Psychologists estimate that more than five to 10 percent of Americans suffer from social media addiction that can be equated to any other substance abuse disorder.
“Studies have shown that the constant stream of retweets, likes and shares from these sites causes the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical response seen with drugs like cocaine,” the addiction center said.
“In fact, neuroscientists have compared social media interaction to a shot of dopamine injected straight into the system.”
Lignier compared the results to how people are attached to their phones in the digital age.
The difference is that social media platforms use likes and comments to trigger the same reaction that the rat had when it received a dose of sugar, and it keeps people coming back for more.
Likewise, sugar is linked to dopamine and several studies claim it is just as addictive as drugs like cocaine and heroin, according to the Wellness Retreat Recovery Center, making it the ideal drug to induce the same reaction to the rat’s selfies.
The artist said humans are trained to press a button and his experiment showed that rats are the same way
The rats spent a few hours a day in the box, then taken out for a week and put back in, repeat the process
The Skinner box showed that the activated dopamine response is what keeps us coming back to our social media for more, it’s what compels us to share a photo of the dinner we made or the concert we attended.
“Social media is designed to hook our brains, and teenagers are especially susceptible to its addiction,” said Nancy DeAngelis, CRNP, Director of Behavioral Health, Jefferson Health – Abington in a Jefferson Health article.
“The overuse of social media can actually rewire a young child or teenager’s brain to constantly seek immediate gratification, leading to obsessive, compulsive and addictive behavior.”