A new comic by Stuart McMillen graphically illustrates the history of psychological research into the role of the social environment on drug use. In Rat Park, the second of two comics McMillen has created on illegal drugs, he describes the work of psychologist Bruce Alexander of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. In Alexander’s Rat Park studies, conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, he explored the significance of the social environment for drug addiction.
Contrary to the prevailing belief that certain classes of drugs are near instantly addictive, Alexander found that environmental conditions largely determine drug use. Although rats housed alone in Skinner boxes would consume large amounts of morphine, those housed in “Rat Park,” a large, stimulating enclosure shared with other rats, did not. This led Alexander to argue that drug addiction is largely a social issue, rather than a physiological one.
Alexander discusses his views on addiction in more detail in a TV Ontario interview with Steve Paikin here. The process of researching, writing, and illustrating Rat Park is discussed by McMillen in a blog post on his website. A number of photographs of the original Rat Park experiment (right) are also featured in this post.
Columbia University Professor Carl Hart, recently featured in the New York Times, has extended work on the non-physiological determinants of drug use in studies of crack cocaine and methamphetamines with human populations. Like Alexander, Hart has found that addiction does not necessarily follow from the use of illegal drugs. Even for those who do become regular drug users, social and environmental variables can significantly influence use. In his recent book, High Price (left), Hart argues that addicts make rational decisions when it comes to drug use. When given the choice between drugs now or a monetary reward weeks in the future, both meth and crack users chose the cash, provided the sum was large enough (in this case, $20). As Hart, quoted in the New York Times, says: “If you’re living in a poor neighborhood deprived of options, there’s a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that will give you some temporary pleasure.” Ultimately, “The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats.”
The full Rat Park comic can be read online here.
The August 2012 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Included in this issue is a Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology, which examines some of the psychological research funded by the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex. Stay tuned to AHP later in the week for a special interview with Peter Hegarty, Michael Pettit, and David Serlin, the authors whose articles make up this section.
In addition to the Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology, the issue includes article that address the history of addiction interventions, the roots of psychology in Italy, behavior analysis in Brazil and its pedagogical connections, Lurena Brackett and mesmerism in the nineteenth century United States, and Jean Piaget’s psychological factory. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
Special Section: Beyond Kinsey, Sex and American Psychology.
“Beyond Kinsey: The committee for research on problems of sex and American psychology,” by Peter Hegarty. The abstract reads,
This introduction to the Special Section of History of Psychology argues for greater attention to psychological research on sex in the decades before the publication of the Kinsey volumes. Drawing on scholarship by Adele Clarke, Donna Haraway and Wade Pickren, this introduction argues for the centrality of the psychological research projects funded by the Committee for Research on Problems of Sex (CRPS), chaired by psychologist Robert Yerkes after 1921. The three individual papers all speak to opposition to the functionalist approach to sex often attributed to Yerkes’ CRPS.
“Getting miles away from Terman: Did the CRPS fund Catharine Cox Miles’s unsilenced psychology of sex?” by Peter Hegarty. The abstract reads, Continue reading August HoP: Sex, Mesmerism, Addiction, & More
My York U. colleague Michael Pettit put me on to an item at the blog of the Medical Museion (U. Copenhagen) about home-made devices for the “sacrificing” of rats (and other small animals) that have completed their “service” as laboratory subjects, such as this improvised guillotine (left).
Most psychologists who have worked in an animal laboratory will be familiar with such objects, but they may come as a surprise to others, as they seemed to have been to the person who told the blogger about her discovery of one in a behavioral neuroscience lab in Sydney, Australia.
It is also worth checking out the comments on this posting, several of which are from people who have used machines such as this, and note that commercially produced versions have long been available as well.