‘Men are not Rats!’


When Pavlov showed that dogs could be conditioned, one retort of the time was ‘Men are not dogs’. Be that as it may, social and drinking habits among men – in the West at any rate – have been shown in the laboratory to resemble the behaviour of rats rather closely.

The psychologist Gaylord Ellison* has demonstrated that when rats are offered alcohol, recreation and food, in circumstances similar to those afforded man, they tend to adopt similar forms of behaviour.
(*Newsweek, New York, May 8, 1978, page 55.)

The importance of this study is that it helps to approach the question of whether ‘social’ and ‘cultural’ behaviour is in fact derived from the animal side of man.

Within a few days of being put into their ‘human-type’ setting, the rats developed patterns which mimic those of Western people. They went to the alcohol dispensers, as do Europeans and Americans, at a pre-meal ‘cocktail hour.’ Concurrently, again as with humans in a similar situation, they combined this with social activity. Although the alcoholic drinks (or water) were available to them, they – like their human counterparts – abstained from drinking until it was time to sleep. As with many people of the Western culture, they had an alcoholic drink before retiring.

From time to time, people in the societies where alcohol is widely used throw parties – drink a lot – and have hangovers. So with the rats. Occasionally the ‘bar’ became a place for a drinking party: all rats joined in for this open house. As with human beings after a particularly hectic drinking party, the rats spent some days recovering, not touching alcohol and imbibing quantities of water.

Humans say that they drink alcohol to reduce tension, to be sociable, to do business with their fellow-drinkers, to avoid loneliness, and so on. Can it be the same with rats? Hardly. The explanation seems that some social behaviour, at least, is rooted in the animal level of behaviour.

Seeker After Truth
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‘Men are not Rats!’


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