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Bruce K Alexander

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Bruce Alexander


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A History of Psychology in Western Civilization

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Bruce K. Alexander (born 20 December 1939) is a psychologist and professor emeritus from Vancouver, BC, Canada. He has taught and conducted research on the psychology of addiction at Simon Fraser University since 1970. He retired from active teaching in 2005. Alexander and SFU colleagues conducted a series of experiments into drug addiction known as the Rat Park experiments. He has written two books: Peaceful Measures: Canada’s Way Out of the War on Drugs (1990) and The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit (2008).


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Rat park

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The "rat park" experiments were published in the journal Psychopharmacology in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Alexander and his colleagues found that the rats in their study that were housed in isolation consumed more morphine than the rats in the rat park colony. Further studies by other researchers failed to reproduce the original experiment's results. One of those studies found that both caged and "park" rats showed a decreased preference for morphine, suggesting a genetic difference.

Writings and views

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Alexander then explored the broader implications of Rat Park experiments for human beings. The main conclusions of his experimental and historical research since 1985 can be summarized as follows:

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  1. Drug addiction is only a small corner of the addiction problem. Most serious addictions do not involve either drugs or alcohol
  2. Addiction is more a social problem than an individual problem. When socially integrated societies are fragmented by internal or external forces, addiction of all sorts increases dramatically, becoming almost universal in extremely fragmented societies.
  3. Addiction arises in fragmented societies because people use it as a way of adapting to extreme social dislocation. As a form of adaptation, addiction is neither a disease that can be cured nor a moral error that can be corrected by punishment and education.
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In 2014 Alexander published the book A History of Psychology in Western Civilization.

1995 WHO cocaine research project

One line of research in which Alexander played a key role was actively suppressed by the World Health Assembly. Early in the 1990s the World Health Organization (WHO) organized the largest study on cocaine use ever undertaken. Profiles of cocaine use were gathered from 21 cities located in 19 countries all over the world. Alexander was selected as the principal investigator for the Vancouver site. The WHO announced publication of the results of the global study in a press release in 1995.

However, an American representative in the World Health Assembly effectively banned the publication, apparently because the study seemed to contradict the dominant myth of addictive drugs, as applied to cocaine. Part of the study's findings were "that occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems." In the sixth meeting of the B committee the US representative threatened that "If WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programs should be curtailed". This led to the WHO decision to postpone publication. The study has not been published officially but was leaked in 2009 and is available at wikileaks.[1]

Awards and recognition

In 2007, Alexander received the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy from Simon Fraser University. In 2011, he was invited to present at the Royal Society of Arts and Manufactures in London.


Bruce K. Alexander Wikipedia

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