Even Rats Are Taking Selfies Now (and Enjoying It)

When Augustin Lignier, an expert photographer in Paris, was in graduate college, he started to ponder the purpose of picture-taking within the fashionable world: Why did so many people really feel compelled to {photograph} our lives and share these photos on-line?

It was not a novel query, but it surely led Mr. Lignier to a stunning place, and earlier than lengthy he discovered himself building what was, in essence, a photograph sales space for rats.

He took inspiration from B.F. Skinner, the well-known behaviorist who had devised a check chamber to check studying in rats. The Skinner field, because it turned identified, disbursed food pellets when rats pushed a delegated lever.

It turned one of the well-known experimental paradigms in psychology. Scientists discovered that reward-seeking rats turned lever-pressing professionals, pushing the bar down over and over in trade for food, medication or perhaps a light electrical zap on to the pleasure heart of the mind.

Mr. Lignier constructed his personal model of a Skinner field — a tall, clear tower with an connected digital camera — and launched two pet-store rats inside. Whenever the rats pressed the button contained in the field, they bought a small dose of sugar and the digital camera snapped their picture. The ensuing photos had been instantly displayed on a display screen, the place the rats might see them. (“But honestly I don’t think they understood it,” Mr. Lignier mentioned.)

The rodents shortly turned enthusiastic button pushers. “They are very clever,” Mr. Lignier mentioned. (He named the white rat, which proved to be the cleverer of the 2, Augustin, after himself. The brown and white rat he named Arthur, after his brother.)

But after this training section, the rewards turned extra unpredictable. Although the rats had been nonetheless photographed each time they hit the button, the candy treats got here solely on occasion, by design. These sorts of intermittent rewards could be particularly highly effective, scientists have discovered, holding animals glued to their experimental slot machines as they await their subsequent jackpot.

Indeed, within the face of those unpredictable rewards, Augustin and Arthur — the rats — persevered. Sometimes, they ignored the sugar even when it did arrive, Mr. Lignier mentioned, and simply saved urgent the button anyway.

To Mr. Lignier, the parallel is apparent. “Digital and social media companies use the same concept to keep the attention of the viewer as long as possible,” he mentioned.

Indeed, social media has been described as “a Skinner Box for the modern human,” doling out periodic, unpredictable rewards — a like, a observe, a promising romantic match — that preserve us glued to our telephones.

Or possibly having the ability to preserve ourselves busy urgent buttons is its personal reward. In a 2014 study, scientists concluded that many human volunteers “preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts.” Maybe we might quite sit round and push no matter levers are in entrance of us — even people who would possibly make us really feel dangerous — than sit with ourselves in quiet contemplation.

But that’s exactly the type of factor that is perhaps too uncomfortable to sit down round and ponder. Especially when there are rat selfies to marvel over — “I found them cute and fun,” Mr. Lignier mentioned — and an limitless stream of Instagram photographs to scroll by means of and even, sometimes, take pleasure in.

Produced by Antonio de Luca and Matt McCann

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