An Experimentally Produced “Social Problem” In Rats (1939)

15 Dec
Director  O. Hobart Mowrer.
Producer  Dept. of Psychology, Institute of Human Relations, Yale University.
Length  10 min
B&W/Color  b&w
UO Library Catalog description:  Depicts a social problem created by placing three rats in a Skinner box with the lever some distance from the food trough. At first any rat pressing the lever finds that the food has been eaten by others. Violent fighting over the empty trough ensues. Finally one rat discovers a way to obtain food for all three by depressing the lever several times. Points out that with this rat as the worker and the other two as parasites, class society has emerged.
Call # FILM Ma37
Genre  instructional
Rare  yes
Online  no
Copyright status  public domain
Physical condition  good
Oregon-related  no


Filmed experiment series. Silent with inter-titles (“Rat No. 1. Rat No. 2”). Moderately uncomfortable viewing and, as catalog indicates, remarkable Marxist subtext. Mowrer was a learning theorist who eventually became a loud anti-Freudian voice in 50s and 60s psychiatry; he contended that religion should work alongside psychology and that the metaphor for mental difference should be moral failure rather than illness. He also made Animal Studies in the Social Modification of Organically Motivated Behavior. Available for sale on DVD. He earned his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1932, and was president of the American Psychological Association in 1954.

One Response to “An Experimentally Produced “Social Problem” In Rats (1939)”


  1. Animal Studies In the Social Modification of Organically Motivated Behavior (1938) « 16mm Lost & Found - January 3, 2012

    […] a major 20th-century psychological career. He also made An Experimentally Produced “Social Problem” In Rats (1939). 1959 Canadian Medical Association journal review says that this film was suitable for […]

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