These guys are SO cute.
If you give a rat a camera, it will apparently take selfies.
That was the biggest takeaway from a fresh riff on a classic rat experiment undertaken by French photographer and amateur behaviorist Augustin Lignier, who told the New York Times that when he taught some pet store rats how to take selfies using a lever that snapped a pic and rewarded them with some sugar, the photo-snapping continued even after the treats stopped.
Born from a desire to understand why people take and post so many self-portraits online, Lignier designed a modified version of behaviorist B.F. Skinner's conditioning experiments wherein rats were given food for pushing a button inside a box. Known now as the "Skinner box," this groundbreaking methodology developed in the 1930s has been used repeatedly in the past century not just to study behavior but also as an allegory — and has even served to describe humans' relationship to social media.
The photographer's Skinner box had a few key differences from the original: its walls were translucent and when the rats pushed the levers, a camera placed outside the apparatus would take their photos that would then be displayed on a screen the rats could view immediately after. Initially, the rats would be given sugar each time they pressed the lever, but the sweets became intermittent after a certain point.
If rats like taking selfies so much, why won't they stay still for my camera 🥲 pic.twitter.com/dvauITDUa5
— best meal of the day 🐀 (@brekkie_rats) January 23, 2024
Although Lignier told the NYT that he doesn't think the rats "understood" their selfies, they kept on pushing the levers all the same and even did so after the sugar rewards became fewer and fewer. Sometimes, the rats — which the photographer named after himself and his brother Arthur — would even ignore the sugar, but kept pressing their selfie buttons all the same.
To Lignier, the experiment presented an obvious parallel to humans' social media addictions.
"Digital and social media companies use the same concept," the Frenchman told the newspaper, "to keep the attention of the viewer as long as possible."
While this is far from the first time animals have taken selfies, having them do so inside a Skinner box seems novel. There's no indication that the rats quite grasped what they were doing, but there's certainly something curious going on with these French rodents, and like Remy, the titular rat from "Ratatouille," we love them regardless.
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