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Mouse Coach


Jiabao Li

Mice have been used extensively in scientific research to better understand behavior change and habit formation in humans. Through various studies, scientists have been able to identify key neural circuits and mechanisms that are involved in these processes, which has helped inform our understanding of how to change behavior and form new habits. For example, studies in mice have shown that the brain's reward system plays a critical role in habit formation and that repeated behaviors can lead to changes in neural circuitry that make habits more automatic. Additionally, mice have been used to investigate the role of environmental factors, such as stress and social support, in behavior change and habit formation. Every year hundreds of millions of mice get fat and stressed, or fit and healthy to help us understand ourselves better.

I share my living space with a pair of pet mice who love running on spinning wheels, but I noticed they gain weight when the wheel malfunctions, just like me without exercise. In an attempt to combat my lack of motivation to exercise, I decided to enlist the mice as my coaches. I designed a spinning wheel for them with embedded sensors, which send me a notification to run when the mice start running, and if I match the distance they run, they receive a treat. I switched our schedules to align with their nocturnal nature. This approach leverages the habit loop theory, where cues, actions, and rewards are essential to developing healthy habits. The cue in this scenario is the mice running, and their treats are the reward for my run. In turn, the amount they run controls my scrolling time on social media. Mice run for a total distance of ∼4 to 20 km per day and a total activity time of ∼3 to 7 hours a day. Matching their running distance is similar to preparing for a half-marathon. This is an ongoing project where I willingly give up control of my health to the mice to see how well it works. I will run a half-marathon to conclude the mice’s training on me.

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