Of Mice and Teens

What can mice teach us about teenagers (and all human beings for that matter)? A lot more than you might think.

Let me explain…

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University performed an experiment that studied the effect that work has on mice and their enjoyment of food.

In this experiment mice were trained to receive food by pressing one of two levers. If the mice pressed a certain lever once, they were rewarded with a sugary treat. The other lever had to be pressed 15 times to deliver a similar snack. Later, when given free access to both treats, the rodents clearly preferred the food that they worked harder for.

In a second part to this study the research team wanted to ascertain whether the animals’ preference for the harder-to-obtain food would hold even if those morsels were low-calorie. So half the mice received lower calorie goodies from a high-effort lever, and half got them from a low-effort lever. When both groups of mice were given free access to the low-calorie food later, those who had used the high-effort lever ate more of it and even seemed to enjoy it more than did the other group (the researchers used licking behavior as a measure of the rodents’ enjoyment of their treats).

Their conclusion for this experiment was that mice valued their food more when they had to work harder for it.

Wow! What a concept right?

So mice prefer to work for their food and when they do, they value that food more. Do you think this applies to your teen?


We appreciate something more when we have to work to get it.

Getting an A in a class that requires time, effort, study, and extra work outside of school will mean much more to a kid than if they just had to show up to get the grade.

Teenagers seem to all of a sudden find a sense of responsibility for items that they work for, save for, and buy with their own money. They can tell you exactly how much their newest video game cost and the name, address, phone number, birthdate, and social security number of the friend who borrowed it last if they bought it themselves with money they earned. This as opposed to the last IPod you bought them, and they have no earthly idea where it is. Surely someone stole it right.

Think back on your own life. When you had to work hard for something, didn’t you appreciate and value it more than if it would have just been given to you. If you had to work to buy your car, prove yourself to get a promotion at work, or put in extra hours practicing to make a sports team, didn’t you value that more than if it were just given to you?

The amount of effort that someone puts forth to obtain something directly effects how much that person will value that specific thing.

This same phenomenon manifests in lottery winners. Economists at the University of Kentucky, University of Pittsburgh, and Vanderbilt University found that the number of Florida lottery winners declaring bankruptcy in any given year was almost double the rate for the broader population. They determined that lottery winners typically engage in something behavioral economists call mental accounting by

Our kids are no different than the mice in the Johns Hopkins experiment. They appreciate things much more when they have to work for them. This universal law becomes abundantly clear on a ranch. It’s absolutely amazing to see teenagers who at home would refuse to do chores, stayed in their room and played video games all day, would lose or break their belongings (that you paid for)-and in general didn’t really appreciate things.

When they come to the ranch and start doing chores, work hard every day, and participate in meaningful activities, their whole perspective changes. They start appreciating hard work. They start appreciating family as they begin to work on their relationships with them. They start appreciating school because they are focused again and are working towards a goal of good grades, college, or a vocational program. They start appreciating the hard work that mom and/or dad have given their whole lives to provide for them. They start appreciating where food comes from when they are milking the cows every morning and evening, gathering eggs from the chickens, growing a garden, churning butter, or making cheese (Just like the mice in the experiment, students will tell you the milk, cheese, and butter even tastes better when they are the ones that did the work). They appreciate a well-kept lawn and landscape when they are the ones that weed and mow. They appreciate clean clothes when they are doing their own laundry. They appreciate a clean bathroom or dishes when they are the ones cleaning. You get the point…

Sometimes we are too quick to give our kids what they want or whatever they ask for instead of allowing them an opportunity to work for it. Next time you are tempted to give in or to let you child have something for nothing, think about the mice in the experiment. Next time you think it would be best to give your teen money because they “need” to buy something, think about the bankrupt lottery winners. Do your kids a favor and allow them an opportunity to work for it instead. They will appreciate it a lot more in the long run.

Students learning to appreciate where milk comes from

KW Students learning to appreciate where milk comes from


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