Robot Bullies Rats into Depression to Test Antidepressant Medication


Japanese engineers have devised a robotic rat that bullies laboratory rats into a state of depression, creating a model of human depression they deem suitable for testing antidepressants.  The research, published this month in Advanced Robotics, reports that continuous attacks in young and intermittent attacks (in response to movement) in older rats is most effective.

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Ishii, H., Shi, Q., Fumino, S., A novel method to develop an animal model of depression using a small mobile robot. Advanced Robotics. 2013: 27(1) 61-69

Of further interest:
Robot rat bullies real rats into depression… for science! (Extreme Tech)

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. Although the first natural reaction to this study might be ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’, there is a very interesting side to this.

    From the abstract (the punctuation makes it a bit more confusing than it needs to – you can tell it’s been written by Japanese): “The animal models should be developed through the method which is consistently associated with the theory of the mental disorders while many of conventional models had been developed by genetic manipulations or surgical operations on nerve system. We considered that a novel animal model could be developed by stress exposure using a small mobile robot. We then implemented this method to the experimental system which had been developed in our past study. An experiment was conducted using the system, and the method was then verified. Therefore, we conclude that the animal model of depression developed by proposed method, exposing continuous attack by the robot in immature period and interactive attack in mature period, can be a novel animal model of depression.”

    In other words (and leaving the robot aside, which is the least important part of it): this experiment shows that ‘depression’ is caused in rats not by genetic or surgical manipulation but by exposure to stress, or rather, trauma. If you punish a young rat continuously so that there is no right option for it to take, the rat becomes ‘depressed’ (and I bet that if rats had a more complex brain -or if we could measure their responses more accurately- they would not simply become ‘depressed’ but also ‘psychotic’)

    The evidence is everywhere you look, when is the penny finally going to drop?

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  2. The penny doesn’t drop because there are too many gold doubloons on the other side of the scale. The trauma theory of depression may be kind of obvious to the lay person, but to the psychiatric professional, it presents an awful dilemma, because you can’t use 15 minutes and a prescription pad to make a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. And the pharmaceutical companies stand to lose billions if they admit that bullying is a much more consistent cause of depression than any genetic vulnerability.

    It’s not that the bigwigs don’t know this data. It’s an “inconvenient truth” that they want to keep quiet. Denial is a lot stronger when backed by a financial conflict of interest!

    —- Steve

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  3. Prior to the invasion of Japan by the drug companies in the 1980’s and ’90’s, their culture didn’t even have a word for depression. Sadness was not considered a bad thing in their culture, but something to be contemplated on since it’s a part of what being human is all about. Now here they are making robot rats that induce trauma in other rats so that they can support the broken brain idea for depression.

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