Mice and Men

by Jim Stovall

Recently, there was a university study done using white mice as the subjects for a psychological experiment.  The mice were put into a cage with a red light and a green light on opposite sides of the space.  The experiment was designed in such a way that when a bell rang, a mouse could rush to the red light or the green light to receive a treat.  The treat was only presented for a few seconds, so that if the mouse guessed wrong and went to the green light when the treat was being presented at the red light, the mouse didn’t have enough time to rush across the cage and get the treat.

The experimenters designed the study so that 80% of the time, the treat was presented at the green light.  After a short period of time, the individual mice became aware of the discrepancy between the results of guessing the red light versus the green light, and they would only go to the green light when the bell rang.  In this way, all of the mice—by only going to the green light—were successful in receiving a treat 80% of the time.

The conclusion of the experimenters was that the mice were relatively intelligent and acted in their own enlightened self-interest.

Then the plot thickened when a similar experiment was done with human beings.  Individuals were put in a room with a red light and a green light on opposite walls.  When the bell rang, they could collect chocolate candy directly beneath one of the lights, but they had to guess correctly between red and green as there wasn’t enough time to get across the room if their first guess was wrong.

Like the mice, after a short period of time, the humans observed that most of the time, the chocolate candy was presented directly beneath the green light; however, unlike the mice, the humans tried to outguess the pattern and rushed toward the red light periodically.

The mice, by recognizing a prevailing condition and only going toward the green light, were rewarded 80% of the time.  The human beings, by trying to outguess the experimenters, were only rewarded 67% of the time.

By any measurable scale of intelligence, human beings can out-think and out-reason mice; however, human beings are susceptible to the thought that they can out-guess a prevailing system.  One need go no further than a casino to see relatively intelligent human subjects participating in a system where they intellectually know they cannot succeed on a long-term basis.

As you go through your day today, think like a mouse when you have no control over the conditions, and think like a human when your effort, energy, and ingenuity can make the difference.

Today’s the day!