When Augustin Lignier, a professional photographer in Paris, was in graduate school, he began to ponder the point of picture-taking in the modern world: Why did so many of us feel compelled to photograph our lives and share those images online?

It was not a novel question, but it led Mr. Lignier to a surprising place, and before long he found himself building what was, in essence, a photo booth for rats.

He took inspiration from B.F. Skinner, the famous behaviorist who had devised a test chamber to study learning in rats. The Skinner box, as it became known, dispensed food pellets when rats pushed a designated lever.

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