keep treading water

No idea what the source of this story is. It sounds like a real scientific experiment, but I heard it as part of a theatre piece. Not that that necessarily makes it untrue or unreliable. Just want it to be clear that this hasn’t been thoroughly researched. Certainly not by me.

So they put a rat in some water that he couldn’t climb out of and waited to see what happened next. He treaded water for roughly three quarters of an hour, gave one last little push of energy and then gave up and drowned.

The second rat was put in the same situation, but after a while they gave him a little platform that he could climb up on and out of the water. The next day, they did the same thing with the second rat that they’d done with the first, but this time the rat treaded water for much longer.

He was almost certainly waiting for the platform to reappear. So he swam hour after hour after hour. He made it upwards of 7 hours. The little rat eventually gave up and drowned.

First of all, I don’t care what you think of animal testing…this whole experiment is cruel. Truly. Even if you believe in the importance of scientific discovery, which I do, this whole scenario is quite barbaric.

But if we can get beyond that for the sake of discussion, what on earth does this prove? Animals, and despite some people’s desire to deny this people are also animals, have much more perseverance than they might at first realise.

More importantly, once you know there’s the possibility of being rescued, you’ll go to much greater lengths to muscle through. Right?

That was the point, yes? To remind you that even if you think you can only swim for forty-five minutes, you’ve got as much if not more than six more hours in you.

Don’t forget to have a nice day.

Photo credits (all Creative Commons licensed):
Euro:  Public Domain Photos on Flickr 
Rat: Infrogmation on Flickr 
Facepalm: Cesara Studillo on Flickr 


  1. I already commented on this on Tumblr. So I suppose I could be lazy and just copy/paste that.

    I know it’s a horrible experiment. I know it is. I don’t condone horribleness. And I love animals. Even rats. I mean, I don’t want to cuddle them or anything, but I also don’t want them to suffer. But you have to admit it’s actually interesting from a psychological standpoint. I mean, there had to be a kinder, gentler way to GET to this, other than torturing animals. But it is interesting. How our minds work. How, when there’s the promise of a carrot, we’ll keep going, just based on the promise alone.

    But no torturing of animals to get there, please. Rats or otherwise.

    1. This is definitely interesting from a psychological perspective. I suppose I could’ve taken this and spent some more time dissecting it, and more importantly what it says about us. Specifically what we’re doing when we keep treading water.

      But I wonder if it’s sometimes more effective when I don’t connect the dots and leave it open to interpretation. The conversation in the blog comments is certainly more entertaining.

  2. As a non swimmer, this would be my worst nightmare. Wonder how long I would make it? Would some primordial survival ability kick in and I’d somehow last longer than I think I would? Not volunteering to try. Just pondering the unknown.

    1. I think the point of our little experiment Lisa is that you don’t know when the platform is to be returned.

      Actually, you don’t even know IF the platform’s ever coming back.

      Remember: it’s all for the sake of science.

  3. In the final experiment, they put a scorpion on a frog’s back and the scorpion stung the frog and they both sunk into the water and drowned while the rat laughed and yelled, “Stupid frog! it’s his NATURE!!!”

  4. I haven’t researched this, but I have my doubts this is a real experiment. It’s not like we haven’t performed cruel tests on fellow animals, but it seems pointless and expensive to let the rats drown. What would happen – had this experiment actually taken place – is that as soon as a rat couldn’t swim anymore and started to sink, it would be fished out and put aside. The test was supposed to be about motivation, not if rats can breathe water, after all.

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