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Fear is Conditioned and Rats Live Forever?

Other than scurrying rats in mysterious corridors and the occasional vampire story that may frighten us, Halloween is full of terrors and scary stories to tell in the dark. Some recurring stories told by Halloween fanatics are those psychological and mutating experiments conducted by humans on, most cases, other humans. Simple drug tests on humans or lab rats can cause a chain of reactions, such as creating new vaccines that’ll help improve health for millions, or  irreversiblephysical and psychological damages to the test subjects.

One experiment conducted by various research teams have found ways to rejuvenate brain cells in old mice.  They would inject a certain protein found in young mice blood to the old mice brain cells. This protein helped older mice restore brain cells, rejuvenate muscle stem cells, reduce thickening of the heart, and help blood vessels grow, ultimately improving their sense of smell.

Scientists wonder if these effects can be replicated with human subjects. It sounds like we are one step closer to finding a cure to mortality; blood. 

Another experiment that gives people the heebie-jeebies is the Little Albert experiment. John B. Watson and his graduate student, Rosalie Rayner had wondered whether fear is conditioned. This experiment confirmed so using Little Albert, a nine-month baby, as a subject by exposing him to different stimuli, such as a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, burning newspaper, and various masks. No fear or reaction was emitted from Little Albert, but once the scientists paired the white rat with a loud banging of pipes, Little Albert got scared and cried. After a while, Little Albert was scared by solely seeing the white rat, white coats and other white objects. The experiment finished shortly after, resulting in Little Albert having to move back with his mother.

After years, psychologist Hall P. Beck tracked down  Little Albert, named Douglas Merritte, and found that he had died at the age of 6 of hydrocephalus, a disease that creates water in the brain, suggesting that Douglas was unhealthy even before the experiment was conducted. Another fact that was dismissed is that hydrocephalus can cause blurred vision; Douglas had suffered from blurred vision almost his whole life, to the point where he had been considered almost blind. If it wasn’t the white rat, then what had he seen?

One final, but most famous experiment that worked with human behavior is the Stanford Prison Experiment. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues had initiated this experiment to figure out the reason behind the brutality from police officers to prisoners; was it inherited sadistic personalities of the officer, or the prison environment? The experiment counted for 21 participants, 10 were prisoners and 11 were guards. After 6 days the experiment was cancelled after prisoners started suffering severe anxiety and inmates started abusing   the power they had over them. It was concluded that police brutality was possibly a situational behavior. 

After this experiment, Zimbardo interviewed a few of the participants. Most of the guard players derived  pleasure from their power and felt it was easy to play the role, while the prisoner players felt cowardly and submissive. What both roles had in common was the surprise that they could act in such a  way; a more haggard and violent version of themselves. 

These human experiments are looked down upon around  the world. Protests have erupted against animal testing and scientists in both Little Alberts and Stanford Prison Experiments have been criticized for projecting unethical behavior in science and experimentation. We can agree with this criticism, but we also cannot shift our views on the benefits these results have provided us. We now know one of the reasons why guards abuse  inmates is because of the atmosphere a prison emits. Fear is conditioned, and rats can live almost forever. Now, isn’t that scary?


Mariana Ferrer

Inter SG '22

Student with BA in English and a minor in Communications. Current writer and Social Media Manager of HC Inter SG.
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