Hungry Rat: “Motivation and Reward in Learning” 1948 Yale University; Psychology Experiments

Hungry Rat: “Motivation and Reward in Learning” 1948 Yale University; Psychology Experiments

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Yale University, Institute of Human Relations study by Neal E. Miller and Gardner L. Hart. “Uses white rats to picture trial-and-error problem solving and to demonstrate the importance of motivation and reward in the learning process.” This one is narrated.

Public domain film from the Prelinger Archives, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and/or equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).

Motivation is a psychological feature that arouses an organism to act towards a desired goal and elicits, controls, and sustains certain goal-directed behaviors. It can be considered a driving force; a psychological one that compels or reinforces an action toward a desired goal. For example, hunger is a motivation that elicits a desire to eat. Motivation is the purpose or psychological cause of an action.

Motivation has been shown to have roots in physiological, behavioral, cognitive, and social areas. Motivation may be rooted in a basic impulse to optimize well-being, minimize physical pain and maximize pleasure. It can also originate from specific physical needs such as eating, sleeping or resting, and sex.

Motivation is an inner drive to behave or act in a certain manner. “It’s the difference between waking up before dawn to pound the pavement and lazing around the house all day.” These inner conditions such as wishes, desires, goals, activate to move in a particular direction in behavior…

Neal Elgar Miller (August 3, 1909 — March 23, 2002) was an American psychologist whose work was an important bridge between behaviorism and personality psychology…

Life and career

Miller was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1909. He received a B.S. degree from the University of Washington (1931), an M.S. from Stanford University (1932), and a Ph.D. degree in Psychology from Yale University (1935). He was a social science research fellow at the Institute of Psychoanalysis in Vienna for one year (1935–36) before returning to Yale as a faculty member in 1936. He spent 30 years at Yale University (1936–1966), where he became the James Rowland Angell Professor of Psychology, and 15 more years at Rockefeller University (1966–1981) before becoming Professor Emeritus at Rockefeller (1981-1985) and Research Affiliate at Yale (1985-?).

Miller was instrumental in the development of biofeedback. He discovered that even the autonomic nervous system could be susceptible to classical conditioning. His findings regarding voluntary control of autonomic systems were later disproven due to an inability to replicate his results.

Neal Miller along with John Dollard and O. Hobart Mowrer helped to integrate behavioral and psychoanalytic concepts. They were able to translate psychological analytic concepts into behavioral terms that would be more easily understood. These three men also recognized Sigmund Freud’s understanding of anxiety as a “signal of danger” and that some things in Freud’s work could be altered to fix this. Neal, John and Hobert believed that a person who was relieved of high anxiety levels would experience what is called “anxiety relief”. These three men also realized that classical conditioning could be followed by operant conditioning.

In 1964 he received the National Medal of Science from President Johnson.

His best known student is Philip Zimbardo.

Key texts

Miller wrote eight books, among them:

– “Frustration and Aggression”
– “Social Learning and Imitation.” Yale Univ. Press, New Haven (1964)
– “Personality and Psychotherapy”
– “Graphic Communication and the Crisis in Education”
– “Selected Papers on Learning, Motivation and Their Physiological Mechanisms”. MW Books, Chicago, Aldine, Atherton, 1971. ISBN 0-202-25038-5
– “Conflict, Displacement, Learned Drives and Theory.” Aldine, ISBN 978-0-202-36142-0


– 1948: Minor studies in aggression: The influence of frustrations imposed by the in-group on attitudes expressed by the out-group. (with R. Bugelski), Journal of Psychology, 25, 437-442


August 3, 2013 / 44 Comments / by / in
  • ở người cũng y như vậy. Ứng dụng vào các mối quan hệ cũng như vậy. ^_^

  • 11:53 the title should be "how to turn rats into ufc fighters"

  • its way better to die by sturbng than that elctrc stupd shock

  • good

  • So cute, poor little rats! But it was interesting to see how much something can influence in someone's behavior.

  • Awesome clear video !

  • Why the fk did i watch this?

  • This is evil period and one day someone will motivate you by withholding your needs. All living things have been, as I would say, rights given from our Creator (God or whatever thing we call it), whether there's God or not. I would rather die than abuse an animal like that. Who could help your perverted mind?

  • Muito bom! 🙂

  • wow i have learn a lot from this. First i just clicked this video because i know that black and white videos such as this will make me sleepy but the opposite happens to me, it makes my mind very active and now i'm not sleepy at all.

  • This video gives the impression the only motivations are negative. Hunger, pain, stress, fear… even if the lever opened a door or dispensed chocolate or even gave immortality, the "satiated" animal would never know because he was never motivated to find out. But what about positive motivations? The smell of chocolate, perhaps? Or being shown a chocolate chip through the glass? It is interesting though that the rat must at least catch a glimpse of a better world before he is willing to perform any actions to pursue it.

  • I am going to be honest, I abselutely hate the skinner box, I know this was necessary, however I do hate the fact that it was. Rats are very empathetical and feel a lot of stuff. I am still debating in my mind if the shock truly was just "annoying", but even if it wasn't I know it was neccessary to get the proper results. Where this video really crossed the line for me was the last experiment, as it was more or less inhumane.

  • If only they could put electric wires beneath me to make me do some work instead of watching this video

  • its mitch jones!

  • This is an example of escape contingency. The electric shock evoked the motivating operation (MO) for lever pressing to escape the electric shock, which also known as the negative reinforcement.


  • LOL @ 2.03 teenager on summer holiday rat

  • this is common sense😯why did they need to do this study?

  • Apparently, hunger and pain are fine tools for teaching subjects to do meaningless labor, destroy things, and fight each other.

  • I'm betting this is used on more than rats.

  • the experiment is not double blind, hehe. It was written in their cages who is hungry and who isn't. This might have influenced their behavior :3

  • 8:30 the rat is like wtf wtf wtf wtf! what is this !!

  • what is a man to do in life other than go mgtow?

  • yazık ama orospu çocukları 🙁

  • Surprise: Painfull electric shocks are more motivation than hunger!!!!

  • this is why steve jobs said stay hungry stay foolish

  • Shock goes on, shock goes off!

  • The beginning was good, but the second half though…

  • motivation makes our behavior ,
    and without "rewarding and punishment" , we would not be able to learn anything .

  • American Rats!

  • Would have worked faster if they marked the desired behavior(whistle, click, voice, handsign, light, etc) and then giving the reward.

  • Humans learn exactly the same. Trial and error is how all living organisms learn. Through trial error you can figure out anything in life.

  • Ashols

  • hate it when people say it's animal abuse first of all it IS animal abuse but there LAB rats used for experments what else would they use?

  • Cruelty to animals

  • for science

  • btw you all Peta people, the guy said the shock is annoying but not painful

  • Lesson learned: Don't Spoil Your Children 😉
    They will learn nothing achieve nothing!

  • soo thats why i'm so lazy with my chips soda and beer and BBQ RIBS I JUST NEED SOMEONE TO SHOCK MY FEET

  • makes me think of navy boot camp motivation to avoid displeasure

  • I'm here for the magnificent comment section.
    70 years later, and I can tell the difference between the "very hungry" animals vs the "not hungry animals"
    let's wire up some neighborhoods!
    I'll bet that the "not hungry" people leave.
    While the "very hungry" people go and smash a windshield, learn to smash a store window, then try to fit 14 pairs of Jordan's in their pockets, realize that shoes don't fit in pockets, put a pair of shoes on their feet and a pair in reach hand (totaling 6 shoes), then use those shoes to run back to their electrified apartment, then cry.

  • The shock was not "annoying" it definitely was painful

  • How far are humans willing to go in the pursuit of knowledge.

  • Military men know all about galvanized motivation like that poor little rat. But it is misleading to assume that motivation wrought from cruelty is more compelling than good old-fashioned encouragement. Tell that to The Lieutenant.

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