Are You a Slacker Rat?


A recent article in the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology has interesting implications for us coffee drinkers.  A study lead by Jay Hosking of the University of British Columbia (abstract) cleverly separated worker rats from slacker rats using a novel, effort based reward system.  For rats willing to put in the extra effort, which involved paying closer attention to a flashing light, the sugar pellet reward was doubled.  For slacker rats, who were happy doing the bare minimum, a single sugar pellet was given.

Slacker rats are the equivalent to those doofs in your office who check Facebook every three minutes, take fifteen minute bathroom breaks, and disappear on ‘errands’ for two hours in the mid afternoon.  We all know they’re napping in their car, or in the case of one of my ex-coworkers, napping on the smooth tiles of the second floor bathroom.  Yeah.  It happened.

Worker rats, well..these are the equivalent of go-getters, busy bodies, people willing to put in extra effort for the potential of a promotion, or other big pay off.

The study found that worker rats and slacker rats reacted differently when given caffeine and amphetamines.  I don’t know how many of you are popping amphetamines, but I’m guessing most of you are chugging your morning coffee.  The study showed that caffeine stimulated both kinds of rats.  It increased their motor impulsivity (a fancy phrase for ‘made them jumpy’), but interestingly, caffeine did NOT help worker rats work harder.  In fact, it turned them into slackers.  It didn’t help slacker rats work harder either, but since they’re already lazy, there was no change in their behavior.

Caffeine made worker rats slackers!  So, if you consider yourself a worker rat, you might want to cut back on the coffee chugging..unless you’ve read the study headed by Gary Arendash, claiming that caffeine “Reverses Cognitive Impairment in Aged Alzheimer’s Disease Mice“-in which case…you might need to kick up your consumption to 6 cups a day.

The take away here, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that it is important to pay attention to how you feel.  The slacker rat study proves that not all of us react in the same way to stimulants.  For some of us they help us focus, work harder, and feel better.  For others, they may be bad habits, dragging us down.  I consider myself a worker rat.  I’m drinking coffee as I write this, because I drink coffee every morning-but maybe tomorrow…maybe, I’ll try water.


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