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Rats who love pain

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

At the MIND institute, UC Davis some really cool research is happening. They have recently been doing some studies with rats. In one of those studies they are "fear conditioning" a previously meaningless scent (peppermint) with an electrical foot shock. (unpleasant) They present the rat with the peppermint scent just before they shock its foot. Mr. Rat doesn't like that very much. The really interesting thing is if that rat was not properly cared for during a specific developmental period that rat will perform certain maze tasks almost backwards from the expectation. In a "Y" maze in which a rat is placed at the "bottom" of the "Y," Mr Rat has to choose which side, right or left he will explore first. The rats without proper care-giving (defined as species expected stimuli) during the sensitive period will actually wander toward the shock/pain associated peppermint side of the "Y" over controls.


The theory behind this is, there is a sensitive development period in which the rat must learn to orient is learning behaviors. Not only do we need to learn, we also need a systems for learning. When this sensitive period starts the mother or care giver of the rat provides a buffer of the developing amygdala (fear and aggression center.) If the caregiver is for some reason our of commission or sedated, as in the case of the rat studies the mother is unable to buffer that amygdala learning. So the Rats learning becomes largely fear and experience based.


All living beings want predictability more than almost any other thing. Whether its food or stress or sleep or sex. Predictability can make pleasant things even more pleasant in some situations but it always makes tough stress more manageable. For these rats being able to predict "i expect to experience pain, but the foot shock hasn't killed me yet" Is a more favorable situation for the brain than waiting around to learn even a painless lesson from mom that inconsistently or never comes thru.


Humans aren't rats. But we do share much of the same brain structures and they seem to have mostly parallel functions. I personally am more like one of those silly run straight into danger rats. I even if somethings gonna hurt it probably wont kill me, so I do it anyway. Whatever "it" is. It seems crazy and unfortunate that some rats and people alike get an unfair share of stress and neglect. It also seems unfair that the effects more or less, last a lifetime.


As I think more deeply into it I remember that there are many instances in life where it can be better to not repeat the mistakes of others and to learn from other experiences. There are also times where one must do things the hard way. One must venture into the unknown blind and afraid to find out what they can learn for themselves. Similarly and opposite many institutions that together create civilization and that I use are almost entirely predicated on doing things the "right way" the type of learning modeled by a mother buffering her child from the stresses of the world.


A few "danger" guys were the inventors and investors that went headfirst into uncharted business territory. They were the risk takers who spearheaded their niche i.e. the internet & microchips. Though started by one type of person, the companies needs changed as it grew larger and needed coherence for stable production and distribution. It needed a type of worker who often fall into the "normal/buffered development." They usually tend to prefer to stay away from danger unless it their forced. That's how a company is able to maintain its productivity and status in a volatile market. You find something that works and you stick with it. After all that's what is meant by the "right way" The "right way" is typically just a set of responses that had been done before with some level of success.


As unfair as it may seem at times, there IS a place for each of us. You might be one type of rat working in a field meant for another. Don't try to fit yourself into anyone else's box. If you're a danger rat go work in a refugee camp. If your a buffered rat work for the non-profit that makes the camp run. There is no wrong way to be; even for us masochistic rats. There's only wrong contexts to be certain ways. We understand this inherently for somethings. We try not giggle at funerals and cheer over murder. Unless of course that murder was a rapist or pedophile. Then its celebrated. Context is everything. The events of our early life have long lasting effects. It prepped us. It trained us. Our early life for better or worse is the blueprint we use for navigation and sense making for the rest of our lives. You wouldn't expect that a map of Detroit to help you navigate LA. So don't expect it of your mind. Find a place that somewhat matches your blueprint and use it well.

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