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Laborit experiment: what we do when we are prevented from acting

Laborit experiment: what we do when we are prevented from acting

If an organism is attacked, it has only 3 options at your disposal: o rebel, or do nothing (and thus suffer the aggression), or run away. For Henri Laborit (1914-1995), the only reasonable choice is flight!

It is in his famous essay L’Elogio del Volo that Laborit gives us what could be called his unified theory of man as a whole. Far from wanting to summarize Laborit’s thinking, we will rather talk about a small experiment that introduces his book and that involves mice and electric shocks.

Laborit’s experiment

Henri Laborit is a surgeon, but also a neurologist and philosopher, to whom we owe him, among other things development of the world’s first neuroleptic in 1951. However, we will focus here on one of the experiments he conducted during his career, the goal of which was to study the stress response in rats. Without further ado, here are the highlights of his experience, as he himself recounts:

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“Let’s take a mouse and put it in a two-compartment chamber. We subject the mouse to a plantar electric shock (it must hurt!), Preceded for a few seconds by a light and sound signal, while we allow the mouse to escape to the next compartment. What is happening? We note without surprise that it is not necessary to ask the mouse to take refuge in the next compartment (which is not electrified). Yes… this is Science 2.0! Conclusion of the experiment: mice don’t like electricity… this is science! “

But what happens if we close the door between the two compartments? The mouse obviously suffers the electric shock, but cannot escape into the second compartment. Then he will freeze, which Laborit calls motor inhibition behavior. Now let’s make the experiment regular for 7 minutes a day for a week. We will discover that the animal has high blood pressure and, even worse, is ulcerated! It doesn’t stop there if we take hers blood pressure up to a month after the end of the experiment, we will find that the animal is still in hypertension! Laborit speaks of one somatization of the bodycaused by stress.

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It could be said that the cause of somatization is not stress, but the electric shock itself. Yet this is not the case. Laborit, in fact, goes further: if after each session the animal is subjected to a convulsive electric shock, which prevents the establishment of long-term memory, then there will be no arterial hypertension. L’memory inhibition prevents somatization. Memory is needed for somatization because memorizes the inefficiency of the action in front of the stimulus. To put it another way, it is the memory that tells the mouse that it cannot do anything to avoid shock and that is what creates the somatization.

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If we now put 2 mice in the box and start the electric shock experiment again, what happens? In this case, the mice start fighting when they receive the shocks. And the result is surprising: no arterial hypertension is measured, not even during a week of experimentation or after! Laborit tells us here that the mice have each externalized their aggression by acting on the other. And this prevented somatization. Also note that combat does not prevent electric shocks.

So let’s summarize the experience: subjected to an electric shock, the mouse has only 3 choices:
– Or flee;
– Or externalizes his aggression (acting on others), even if this does not prevent shock;
– Or somatize if he has no other choice.

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For Laborit, faced with aggression, individuals think first of all of escape; and if they can’t, they take their aggression out on others.

Could this discovery serve as a reading grid for the human psyche?

In any case, for Laborit there are no doubts. The human being, this enigmatic animal, can be decoded if we want to subject him to the “coldness” of behavioral analysis. And everything is summed up in Love, Childhood, Freedom, Death, Happiness, but also Politics, Society and Faith! It is with great clarity that Laborit exposes to us in the Eulogy of Flight what could be called one unified theory of man.

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At first glance, this book may seem profoundly anti-humanist to us, especially when Laborit strives to destroy our idealistic conception of love by describing it as the most narcissistic feeling there is. However, little by little hope appears in Man. For Laborit, in fact, the only reasonable choice in the face of an attack is to flee.

Unlike animals, Laborit sees man as one formidable ability to escape that simply defines the imaginary. Stressed man can flee like an animal (by taking his legs around his neck), but he can also flee to another world, namely a imaginary world. After all, why do we love reading books, watching movies or listening to music so much?