Biographical Non-Fiction posted September 13, 2017


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Professor Hartanger would have said this if he knew it all

Oh Rats!

by Anio


In my final year of studying Psychology as a major in my degree, I was required to participate in a rather lengthy research project with two other students assisting one of the Professors of the Department. The research involved running laboratory rats through mazes and collecting data on the time they took to perform the task under various conditions of stress such as complexity of the maze, time since last feeding, amount of food given at last feeding and so on.

In my first year we had worked with rats, but it had been rather minor and of course, to a first year student, sort of fun to see these little creatures developing before your very eyes.

Psych 101 required two things.
One was to train your own dear little furry ratty thing to press a bar that would dispense food. This demonstrated the enormously magnificent principle of Positive Reinforcement. That is, that an organism, yes, an organism which includes rats and humans alike folks, will perform a behaviour for a reward. Oh, and an 'organism' includes all animal forms and even some cell clusters, I think. Now of course that 'positive reinforcement' can not just be any old thing. Like you could not expect your little furry ratty to press that bar for a gherkin and chilli with sour cream snack. It's got to be something that the 'organism' values, wants, likes, needs or desires for instance.
In our case it was what our little ratty NEEDED. Our little furry friends had not been fed for quite some time before our class. For those organisms who had to wait for a late class like after five in the afternoon, well, I mean, they were REALLY needy.
So the smell of the rat pellets behind the bar must have driven them half crazy. We just thought they were being cute as they raced around with their whiskers twitching and their little noses as shiny as could be probably with hunger saliva. Busy little paws pawing and pawing at the wall in front of them, well of course by chance they would have to hit that bar and whoopee a pellet!
CLANK! So tasty, so yummy, oh mummy, my tummy feels yummy.
"Now," says ratty,"that's one, but I NEED MORE, I'm ever so hungry. How DID I do that?"
And of course being a smart little organism it doesn't take him long to work it out. Soon he's at it like a pro. Left paw, right paw, right back paw, left back paw, paw-stand and whip the tail around in a sharp flip and ding that bar down and those pellets they just keep on droppin' for little furry ratty organism. He can feed on until the clock says its time for Psych 101 to be over and his belly is full.

The other interaction with ratty organisms in first year is to get them to run through various mazes to find their food. It's lots of fun to watch them as you change the maze, but they are very smart and once they get the hang of it it's like playing with your friend after school really.

So on to the BIG project in my final year. This was a very big deal. It was helping the Professor run his rats in a highly controlled experiment which he would write up and publish. Publish or perish. That was the game in academe and these experiments were gold for the academics reputations.
Three of us were to be the Prof's laboratory assistants. His particular study was concerned with how stress produced ulcers in organisms. Yes folks, that includes rats, mice, mankind and womankind. So these ratties were going to DIE when we finished with them to see if they had any ulcers.

Just a little background on Professor Hartanger. He was well known for his 'cure' for homosexuality ( in the early 1960's ), which was basically delivery of electric shock to the genitals of gay men when they showed sexual arousal to photos of other men. He was also one of the main consultants in the design of one of the most inhumane prisons for the criminally insane that was eventually closed.

Back to our rats. The three of us had to collect data over a three month period including weekends. Isabelle, a student of Dentistry doing Psychology as her required Humanities study, Robert and myself.
Being an obsessive compulsive type when I get into a project and especially when collecting data or anything to do with numbers, I religiously went into the laboratory, ran the twelve rats through the mazes, timed them, wrote up the results and did all the calculations required and went home. As I filled in the data in the book I could see that the others were doing it too and all looked good. Everybody was doing their bit. The Prof was going to get his article written and published and we would get our names on it too, whoopee! Fame!

I don't know why, but I went into the Department one day for some reason or another and thought I'd just pop into the laboratory and see if anyone was there and just say 'Hi'.
There was Isabelle.
The rats in this lab were very BIG. Like BIG WHITE CATS.
Isabelle was cuddling one and feeding it some cheese and lettuce.
I nearly wet my pants.
"What the hell are you doing?" I stuttered.
"This is a highly controlled experiment. These animals are on a specific and controlled food intake," I mumbled.

"Oh dear ratty," Isabelle crooned as she stroked the big cat/rat.
"They're all so cute, and all they get is these rotten pellets, so I bring them nice tasty treats. They do seem to love them so much you know. AND I cuddle each one of them." She smiled.

"When do you run them through the mazes?" I asked, my voice sort of creaking, my knees wobbling, visions of men's genitalia with electric shocks making them jiggle, Hartanger's prison doors re-opening.

"Oh, I don't," she tossed off the words into the air as I clutched at the bench.
"I just add up your numbers and Robert's and take an average and fill in my column"

*****************************************************************

This is the first time I've told this story publicly.
Professor Hartanger is dead. ( 'Hartanger' is not the real name of the professor obviously)
Isabelle is probably living a life of wonderful retired luxury as most dentists do.
The research was published under the Prof's name with Robert as co-author, congrats Robert, you got famous first.

This is a warning to everyone about being 'bedazzled' by 'research'.




Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry


Thanks MkFlood I'm using your rats for my story. Thanks Charlie for talking about rats.
I did my PG1 thesis on the validity of 'research' and found much of this kind of hokey pokey going on. :)
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by MKFlood at FanArtReview.com

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