101 Scientifically Justified

ways to be cruel to a hamster

Handy Hints
for making
A Superstitious Hamster

EJK '98

Animal learning is based on food. Take the most famous animal learning experiment ever, Pavlov. Pavlov managed to demonstrate that you can train a dog to drool when you ring a bell. Of course this didn't sound too good to the governing board that were supplying his grant, so he phrased it differently, more along the lines of "the production of saliva and digestive juices can be demonstrated to be a conditioned response based on any stimulus which can be associated with the approbation of food". Sounds terribly clever and important - but essentially he taught a dog too drool on demand.

However Pavlov's experimentation is not the only animal learning experiment to have been performed. There is a case of someone attempting to prove that acquired learning (as opposed to innate learning - such as instinct) could be passed on through the digestive system. He did this by teaching flatworms how to find their way through mazes, then mincing them up and feeding them to other flatworms and demonstrating that the cannibalistic flatworms could find their way through the same mazes much quicker. This is only successful with very primitive organisms however. Teaching your hamster to tightrope walk, and when it gets old putting it in a blender and feeding it too your new hamster will not make your new hamster any better at tightrope walking and will probably make you feel very ill in the process. This is all because the way flatworms absorb food and hamsters absorb food is very different, and this is the same for all higher organisms...which is just as well or else there would be a lot of geniuses out there looking worried every time someone picked up a knife and fork, licked their lips and looked at them pointedly...

Another classic piece of animal learning experimentation is the FEEDING SWITCH. This is, at its simplest, a switch that, when pressed (bitten, stood on, pecked etc.) dispensed food. An animal's learning capacity can then be determined by how quickly the animal associates the pressing of the switch with the dispensing of the food. It is using this equipment that scientists first learnt that ducks were smarter than pigeons, blue-tits were smarter than sparrows, and pigs were veritable intellectuals besides sheep. They also discovered, after finding an emaciated MD who had accidentally got locked in the lab during the summer holidays, that managers come somewhere between pigeons and sheep in their learning ability.

Hamsters, like all rodents, soon figure out how the feeding switch works. Once a feeding switch is installed, hamsters stop grabbing all the food they can , stuffing their pouches full and running off laughing evilly to themselves at every daily feed. Instead, they become casual, eating when they are hungry, and concentrating more on their other hobbies (reading, television, water skiing etc.).

When animal psychologists noticed this, they decided that this was too easy a life for a mere rodent and complicated the feeding switch idea.

They stuck an electrode in the part of the rodents brain that suppressed hunger, and got a rodent that spent 3 weeks pressing the switch solidly and eating like crazy, until it finally keeled over and died of obesity.

They removed the food element all together, and connected the switch to an electrode stuck in the part of the rodents brain that controlled happiness and sexual stimulation, and got a rodent that spent 3 weeks pressing the switch solidly and NOT eating at all, until it finally keeled over and died of starvation (albeit with a big grin on its face).

Then they devised a way of making an animal superstitious. This was originally done with pigeons, but can just as easily be done with your dear old hamster as well.

* Set-up a feeding switch for your hamster. Train the hamster to become accustomed to pressing the switch to receive food.

* Now disconnect the switch, but leave it in the cage, and hook the dispensing unit up so that it dispensed AT RANDOM.

* Set-up your hidden camera and relax.

Your hamster will experience some initial confusion, but when the first random dispensation of food occurs, it will try to associate the dispensing with some sequence of actions that it has performed. The hamster will attempt then to repeat this and variants of it, and begin associating random elements of its actions with the dispensing of the food, even though the trigger is entirely random. Soon, within a short space of time, you will have a hamster that has convinced itself that if it spins round three times, chews a bar and takes a drink, the food will be dispensed - even if this is not the case.

When this was performed on pigeons, each pigeon came up with a unique and very different superstition. If you have multiple hamsters, you may like to try this too.

NOTE: This says a lot about human superstition as well.