A photographer, Augustin Lignier, based in Paris, decided on an experiment with rats to test addiction and enlighten us about social media addiction. Two rats were placed in a specialist kind of cage called a Skinner Box.
The rats were initially given sugar together with a photograph of themselves when they pressed a particular button.
When the sugar was intermittently taken away after they had pushed the button but the photograph remained, the rats continued to push the button indicating that they wanted to look at the photograph of themselves. Augustin said that on occasions during the tests, they even ignored the sugar when it arrived.
And this apparently is a kind of addiction that humans experience on social media. The photographer says that the rats were responding in a similar way to how humans are kept interested in social media.
He said that “Digital and social media companies use the same concept to keep the attention of the viewer as long as possible.”
He told CNN: “Every time they push the button, they have dopamine in their brain and then it records the exact moment they are touching it. When you have such a power, when it is just with two small rats [or] billions of people, you feel like you can manipulate everything [and] this is a really weird feeling.”
The cage was invented in the 1950s by the psychologist BF Skinner in order to study animal behaviour.
It dispenses food pellets whenever the rat pushed a lever. It proved that rats would continually press the lever in pursuit of food and even when a gentle electric shock was delivered to a particular receptive part of the brain.
The Mail Online has a very big feature on this animal test. They’ve have a really good headline: “Say cheese! Artist trained two rats to take selfies and they didn’t want to stop!” Although I am not sure that is an accurate representation of the experiment.
They conclude that rats can be addicted to selfies just like humans or was it the sugar! 😒 Augustin Lignier, a photographer, constructed a complicated series of boxes with photographic/lighting and cameras in order to assess the reaction of rats to rewards. He says that he “was trying to understand how experiments from the ’50s could influence behaviour as we have social media smart phones”.
He says that at one point the rats stopped taking the sugar but as I understand it, some of the rats still pushed the button to see a photograph of themselves. Some rats were more active in pushing the button than others even after it stopped taking the sugar.
I must say I’ve have found this experiment battling because I don’t see how a rat can be interested in looking at themselves in a picture. This is highly implausible. Rats will be attracted to eating sugar but not see themselves in a photograph.
But despite that incomprehensibility by me, Lignier’s experiment appears to support how humans can become addicted to social media. It can be as addictive as taking cocaine. The Addiction Center said that studies have shown that a constant stream of interaction with social media such as tweets and Facebook likes can cause “the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction seen with drugs like cocaine”.
Some neuroscientists have compared social media interaction “to a syringe of dopamine being injected straight into the system.”
Lignier apparently compared his results to how humans are attached to their phones in the modern era where the smartphone has become such an important part of people’s lives.
On social media, the use of “likes” on Facebook and comments apparently trigger the same response that they wrap had when it received a dose of sugar. It keeps people coming back for more.
Social media activates similar reward pathways which are triggered when using an addictive substance such as a drug or alcohol. As I understand it, this is the release of dopamine because the experience of diving into social media becomes pleasurable.
When people addicted to social media jump onto the platform their brain releases small bursts of dopamine as if to reward them for such a pleasurable activity.
This neurological response pushes the social media user to do it again and again. And they repeat the experience to seek that gratification.