Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Who would have thought this?

A little bit of stress goes a long way and can have far-reaching effects. Neuroscientists from the University of Washington have found that a single exposure to uncontrollable stress impairs decision making in rats for several days, making them unable to reliably seek out the larger of two rewards.
Well, who - when reading this - wouldn't come to think of all those stressed bankers & brokers, politicians & other stressed out decision makers.

And right. The article ends:
"Decision making, both large and small, is part of our lives. People are prone to make mistakes under stress. Look at what has been going on with the stock market. People are under huge amounts of stress and we have to question some of the decisions that are being made."
Science article here.
Some people might call the following nitpicking, thus just to make sure: This blogger would take up the cudgel on behalf of basic research, whenever politicians would refuse tax-funded (sic!) support, as long as there would not at least the invention of a teflon pan be guaranteed.

Still, sometimes, I am ... well, surprised when coming to learn that certain scientists, i.e. ladies and gentlemen who - to slightly a great degree make a tax-funded living* - after years, sometimes even decades of research would come to a result ...
... and here, esteemed readers, I do once again feel reminded of
a certain passage in Thoreau's Walden and particularly its last sentence: [...] which I seriously think a ready wit might write a twelvemonth or twelve years beforehand with sufficient accuracy.

* and may nobody tell me the very scientists whose exorbitant research result even made it into Science were able to acquire third-party funds for their "project". Please!


  1. I have some serious questions.

    Do scientists use rats for their experiments, because rats are the closest animals to human beings that they could find?

    Do they believe that under the same circonstances, human beings will react like rats?

    And does it mean that all stressed bankers, brokers, politicians, and other stressed out decision makers belong to the rat category?

    Therefore, little people (like me) would be very right to distrust those so-called VIPs?

    And do you think that the reason why neuroscientists are so well-funded by politicians is that their conclusions (in some strange ways) excuse any mistake the rats (oops, I meant: VIPs) are making?

    Actually (like Thoreau) I don't give a hoot about rats/VIPs, and neuroscientists reports.

    I didn't isolate myself from the mass of humanity as Thoreau managed to do, but I did buy a beautiful 3'4", wooden, abstract sculpture called Solitude is Strength. It doesn't scare people away, but it doesn't invite gossipers in. It's a sad fact that often when I hear of a shocking or outrageous event in the world, it could have been predicted. And my first words are always, "What else is new?"

  2. In practical terms, it makes sense and is proven in real life. No need to experiment on humans. They live stress.

  3. I truly admire people who can express in 3 lines what it takes me 60 to say. :)

  4. THe conclusions does seem like saying water is wet doesn't it. On the other hand if it could help improve understanding of the brain pathways then there is possibly some benefit... although this des not seem to be the point of this experiment and the funvtion of the rat brain, although obviously very similar, does have significant differences

  5. Claudia,
    rats, in some fields are more intelligent than homo sapiens sapiens; female rats f.e. would when there's not enough to eat not bear siblings.
    Therefore, I prefer scientists working with drosophila (am I unfair against flies?).

    As for comparing rats with certain members of the human race, I think this is utterly unfair against the rats. Same goes for pigs, dogs, apeas, geese, snakes, sheep.

    Neuroscientist will very probably not find the answers they wish to find, still I agree with those who say that neuroscience might become one of the most thrilling research-fields in this century.

    As for Thoreau and the very thought I quoted: if I were a magician, each journalist (before writing her/his first article), and each reader (before reading her/his first newspaper) would have it in mind. :)

    As for solitude: As most things it is not positive per se. But yes, in the proper measure it can give strength.

    Did I forget to answer any question? :)

    quite! :)

    sic! :)

    yes, if it could help improve understanding of the brain pathways then there is possibly some benefit.
    That is why I I'd almost always take up the cudgels for basic research.
    It is / would be wrong to fund basic research only when the outcome is definitively is at least a tevlon pan.

    No doubt, had we been asked, both we could have given a proper answer in a proper article within 24 hours.
    And we'd have done it for a tenth, wouldn't we? :)

  6. Thank you for answering all my questions. Didn't expect it.:) It was really a tongue-in-cheek comment.

    Maybe rats, and all animal species, are, at times, better than some humans, but I still would prefer not to be compared to any. Even if it would be to praise me, not to insult me....

    To your good health, Sean.:)