February 4, 2022 Leave your thoughts

Does the rat care about freedom of choice?

Intrinsic value of autonomy

3-min paper Voss and Homzie (1970). Choice as value. Psychological Report

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em. 

We have all heard Shakespeare’s great line above. I am guessing almost everyone would wish to be the one who “achieves greatness” rather than inherit it or, worse, be forced to accept it. In a brilliant experiment in 1970, Voss and Homzie showed that rats are no different.

Schematic of the CHOOSING to CHOOSE maze

Voss and Homzie designed a maze (see above) and had their rats lean to find their way in it through a lot of practice. Rats had to go from START to Cheese (obviously). Along their path, very soon they would arrive at junction 1 where the road forked.

Through their many previous experiences, they knew that if took the right road, all they had to do was to keep walking until they reached the cheese. If the rat wanted less mental effort, this would be it.

If the rat turned left in junction 1, then there would be a second choice point in junction 2 where it could, once again, make another choice. Importantly, both roads forking from junction 2 were exactly as long as each other. Making a choice did not make things more or less difficult. Junction 2 was just a choice. If the rat was looking for autonomy and control, this would be the way.

The critical question was: what does the rat do in junction 1? Does it turn right and relax or turn left and making a second choice along the way?  

The results showed that across several thousand trials, on 60% of the times, rats chose autonomy over simplicity. Having a choice, it turned out, was INTRINSICALLY valuable to the rats. 

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