Monday, January 21, 2008

Cruisin' for a Bruisin'

by Barbara D'Amato

Here’s one for the books.

Jeanna Bryner, writing for reports on a study Professor Craig Kennedy at Vanderbilt University had undertaken and reported in the Journal Psychopharmacology. Get this:

The experimenters put a male mouse and a female mouse in a cage together. Then they took out the female mouse and put in a second male mouse. The intruder caused aggressive actions by the resident male, which, if you’re a mouse, includes boxing, a sideways stance, biting, and tail rattling. [Don't humans do this?] After the intruder mouse was removed, the researchers trained the resident male to poke a target with his nose to get the intruder to return. The resident mouse poked the target and fought, over and over, with the intruder mouse. Thus, the chance to fight was a reward. This was repeated with several resident and intruder mice

The researchers then treated the resident mice with a chemical to block dopamine release in its brain, the same parts of the brain that “see” food as rewarding. The mice were then less apt to poke their targets to get their intruders to come back. The researchers conclude that positive reinforcement is triggered by opportunities for aggression--aggression itself, just as it is by food and sex.

Are you a man or a mouse?

Given the fact that most humans see the mouse as typifying timidity, what does this say for human fighting? Will a guy go to a bar specifically looking for trouble? Probably. Maybe the scrappy little boys on the playground haven’t simply been badly brought up.

The implications for peace on earth are scary, of course, but way beyond the scope of The Outfit. Unless somebody wiser than I wants to take over.

The implications for crime fiction are interesting. Maybe those books in which people simply fly off the handle and fight, and are criticized for “lacking adequate motivation,” are actually well-founded. Extended fight scenes, quick recovery from that blow to the chin, and “wanting more” may be quite realistic.

Unmotivated aggression is not just a plot device. More’s the pity.


Tony D'Amato said...

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Lord what fools these mortals be
Did He who made the lamb make

Marcus Sakey said...

What a fascinating post, Barb! More than a little haunting, too. But certainly explains a lot...

Barbara D'Amato said...

It was a surprise to me that violence was sought out for its own sake.

Congratulations on the book, Marcus!

Furious D said...

There's an old Cape Breton term for guys like that mouse. It goes something like: "That boy would rather fight than eat."

And I've met some people whose idea of a good time is to get drunk and beat the living snot out of someone.

Jude Hardin said...

Everyone on the planet just needs to switch from One-A-Day vitamins to a dopamine blocker. We'll all be frozen like statues, like the patients in Awakenings, but we'll have world peace!

Hmm. For those of you old enough to remember TV cigarette ads...I'd rather fight than switch. ;)

Michael Dymmoch said...

Pretty amazing.

Konrad Lorenz had it right.