Even Wild Animals Love Playing On Hamster Wheels
Let's set up a depressing scene for you. Don't worry: In a couple paragraphs, we're going to take it back and explain it's not really depressing at all.
Picture a cage in your room, where you keep your pet rodent. It contains food, and bedding, and a little wheel for it to exercise on. Your pet (a hamster maybe, or rat, or gerbil) runs on this wheel. But you have doubts about how much it really enjoys it.
It chooses to run on the wheel, so it must like it well enough. However, that might just reveal how miserable life is in that cage, if even this feels like a good choice of how to use its time. It would be doing something much more fun were it free in the wild, surely.
Or maybe it wouldn't, according to an experiment that Dutch scientists conducted in 2014. Yes, scientists sought to answer whether hamster wheels really are any fun, and this wasn't a joke study that they did just to be weird. Many lab experiments use rats and exercise wheels, since rats are test subjects for research into human metabolism, so all insight into how animals use these wheels is useful.
The scientists set up hamster wheels in the forest and secretly monitored them. They placed some food nearby to attract animals, and they also repeated the experiment without food, but either way, no animal needed to step on the wheel to access the food. Animals had no reason to get on the wheel, other than their own choice. And yet time and again, animals who had the freedom to do anything in the world chose to get on the hamster wheel and run. Mice ran on the wheel, as did rats, shrews, and even frogs. One ran on the wheel for 18 minutes straight.
We might have trouble relating, but animals really do seem to get a kick out of the wheel—they're not turning to it in desperation. We humans, on the other hand, will get on a treadmill because we know it's good for our health, but we wouldn't choose to do it otherwise. Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?
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Top image: Doenertier82/Wiki Commons