The Power of Hope: A Rat Experiment by Dr Curt Richter

By: Santosh Swamy, PhD
An interesting Brutal experiment was conducted in the 1950s by a scientist named Dr Curt Richter. In that experiment, he took a dozen domesticated rats and placed them into jars half-filled with water to test how long they could tread water.

Unsurprisingly, the rats drowned, but the idea was to measure the amount of time they swam before they gave up and went belly up.

On average they’d give up and sink after 15 minutes.

But right before they gave up due to exhaustion, the researchers would pluck them out, dry them off, let them rest for a few minutes – and put them back in for a second round.

In this second try – how long do you think they lasted?

Remember – they had just swam until failure only a few short minutes ago…

How long do you think?

Another 15 minutes?

10 minutes?

5 minutes?


60 hours!

That’s not an error.

That’s right! 60 hours of swimming.

The conclusion drawn was that since the rats BELIEVED that they would eventually be rescued, they could push their bodies way past what they previously thought impossible.

If hope can cause exhausted rats to swim for that long, what could a belief in yourself and your abilities, do for you?

So hope obviously serves an important function: it’s a primal survival-based mechanism embedded within us. But hope gets a bad reputation these days. People hear the word and dismiss it as doe-eyed, wishy-washy, emotional fluff.

But that is missing the point.

You see, hoping is not the same as wishing or dreaming: it is regulated by an assessment of the possibility and, unlike a dream or a fantasy, that possibility has to exist even if the odds are slim.

For instance, you can wish you hadn’t gotten into an accident the other day, but you can’t hope it. For you to hope something, there needs to be a possibility. Hope is on one end on the spectrum of how you react to possibilities in the future. The other end is despair.

Despair ___________________________________________Hope

So clearly, as a human being who lives and experiences possibilities, you need hope. Not only do you need it, but it’s also an inevitable part of your experience.

During this horrifying Covid-19 period many would be fired or their salary is cut, or they are out of business, just remember one thing keep kicking and keep swimming, a ray of hope is always there.

The experiment:

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