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Span J Psychol. 2007 Nov;10(2):251-7.

Self-starvation in the rat: running versus eating.

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School of Psychology (A18), University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.


Rats given the combination of unrestricted access to an activity wheel and restricted access to food can lose weight to the extent that they will die unless removed from these conditions. Although this has been known for forty years, why this happens has remained unclear. The phenomenon is paradoxical in that one might expect such rats to eat more as their weight decreases, but in fact they eat less than resting controls. This lecture first examines some of the factors than influence whether self-starvation will occur, such as age, time of food access, type of food and ambient temperature. It then compares competing explanations such as circadian adaptation, thermo-regulation and food aversion learning. As so often in psychology, it turns out that self-starvation results from a combination of many separate factors. The general implications of this research are examined, including whether it provides a useful animal model for human anorexia nervosa.

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