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CULTURE WATCH : Earthquake Stress Even Rattles Rats

March 10, 1994|SHARI ROAN

It's OK if you think you'll never get used to earthquakes. It's natural to become unglued. Biological, even.

At least, that inference might be drawn from the work of Natalie Alexander, a USC researcher who studies environmental stress.

Alexander has subjected laboratory rats to simulated earthquakes to see how they react, and found that rats do not adapt to the shaking. They are just as stressed-out by their 100th earthquake as they were during the first.

In three years of research, Alexander has also found that the rats' stress increases with the speed of shaking. Some try to escape from their cages.

She measured the rats' stress by looking at changes in blood pressure, heart rate and the release of hormones and neurotransmitters into the blood, which are natural defense mechanisms to stress.

These studies may be applicable to humans, she says, because rats are mammals with cardiovascular and hormonal systems very similar to ours.

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