The mice are in control!
(The science of consequences: part 1)

I’ve recently started reading Susan Scheider’s fascinating new book, The Science of Consequences.

Susan Schneider is a biopsychologist who has spent years studying learning and behavior in both people and animals. (You can read more about her background on her bio on her website.)

The Science of Consequences is a fascinating journey through the science of consequences – how environmental and social consequences affect our choices, our genes, our brain, and our society.

The book is divided into three broad sections. I’ve just finished reading the first, called “Consequences and how nature-nurture really works.” Schneider explains how consequences are everywhere. Through history, they have had a huge impact on evolution. Today, on an individual level, they daily impact gene expression and neurochemistry in both people and animals.

Schneider argues that “A major misunderstanding about nature ‘versus’ nurture has been that it’s an either/or proposition in which genetic and environmental contributions to a behavioral or physiological outcome can be separated. Instead, it’s always ‘nature and nurture’—always genes and environment working together.”

Schneider does a great job of taking some pretty academic topics and explaining them in a straight forward, easy to understand way. There are lots of really fun examples in this section, such as butterflies who quickly learn what color signals the consequence they want. Schneider also includes a lengthy and intrguing discussion about how even instinctive behavior can be highly flexible.

Here’s one of my favorite examples from this section. Schneider uses a story about deer mice to illustrate how being able to control your environment can be a big reinforcer for many animals. Deer mice don’t like bright light. And, given the option in a laboratory setting, they will press a lever or button to turn the lights off. But, Schneider write that:

“If the light is automatically turned off every half hour, however, the mice turn it back on. Even though the mice have an aversion to bright lighting, having control over the illumination is sufficiently rewarding to override it. Talk about reverse psychology. Given switches on either side of their cage that turn the light on and off, the mice will run back and forth to do so many times a day.”

Once I finish the whole book, I promise to write a complete review of it. But, I’m enjoying it so much right now that I wanted to share a few thoughts about the book and what’s in it.

If you’re interested in seeing a preview of the book or purchasing a copy, you can check it out on Amazon: The Science of Consequences.

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