The Happiness of Rabbits

Time for a Sunday feel-good piece, with some science and cute rabbits thrown in. And heart disease. And death. And arterial plaque. Hmm. Forget about the feel-good part. Let’s concentrate on science and cute rabbits.
rabbit-373691_1280The following experiments were conducted in the 1970s somewhere in America. Our scientist Robert Nerem was doing his damnedest to induce heart disease in rabbits by feeding them a very non-rabbity diet. After the study the poor animals were killed and the build-up of arterial plaque in their veins was calculated.

When the rabbits were killed, Nerem discovered something interesting. Not all rabbits had developed the same amount of build-up. Those who had been housed in the lower cages, had around 60% less arterial plaque than the ones living in top cages.

Of course they did their best to find out if there was some sort of a difference in how the rabbits had been treated. The only difference they could find was that the research assistant who had been in charge of feeding rabbitsrabbit-713491_1280 had been taking the rabbits in the lower cages out of the cage when she fed them. She had a soft spot for animals, so she petted them and played with them. She gave them love and affection as well as the heart disease food. She was too short to properly reach the upper cages so the unfortunate rabbits in those had to settle for just heart disease.

Nerem couldn’t believe that this difference in handling might cause one group of rabbits to resist heart disease better than the other. He did the experiment all over and again with a fresh batch of rabbits, this time making sure that the only difference between the two groups was in how they were handled.

nature-73531_640The results stayed the same. The rabbits reacted to love and kisses by staying in better health in spite of the horrible diet. 60% less plaque is a pretty impressive result.

Of course, another research group had to spoil all the fun by trying to reproduce the result. They couldn’t. But I’m still wondering. This later research group approached the rabbits with a stopwatch and held them on their knees for precisely ten minutes, petting them (robotically, I assume) and speaking nicely. The rabbits were afraid of them. They know this since they measured the rabbits’ freezing behavior. This sounds like a long way from Nerem’s sweet assistant who played with the rabbits out of the goodness of her heart. I bet the rabbits weren’t afraid of her.


I don’t know who’s right in the end, Nerem or the others. It might go either way. But it’s good to remember, when you touch the ones you love, you might not just be giving them a fleeting sensation. You might actually be preventing arterial plaque build-up.

It’s Sunday. You’ve got the time. Hug someone!

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