Psychology and Animals, What weird things have our best and brightest done to animals?

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Psychology and Animals, What weird things have our best and brightest done to animals?

Psychology has a rich and interesting history filled with ups and downs that fascinates anyone who even looks into it a little. It’s macabre history ranges from live lobotomies to dogs and bells leading to psychology becoming one of the most prevalent degrees out there. Animal studies are often brought up when talking about psychology however very rarely do people understand what the study was, just caring about the results. Well now is the time to change that and have some lovely trivia to bring up during lockdown family dinner. Here are 2 Psychological animal studies.

Starting off with Lorenz adorable gosling (baby geese) study. The aim of this study was to see the effect of imprinting. Imprinting is a term used to explain when animals attach to the first large moving creature they see once they hatch. He did this by taking a large clutch of goose eggs and randomly assigning them to option A or B.


Option A meant that they would be given to a regular goose and live out a normal life (his control variable) while option B would be hatched in an incubation chamber and hence Lorenz would be the first large creature they see and hopefully they would attach to him. Once they hatched Lorenz tried his best to mimic a mother goose sound by squawking and somehow it worked. They followed him around everywhere and even though he shouldn’t have, Lorenz himself became quite attached to his baby Goslings. He grew up with them and taught them to swim via a rowing boat and even attempted to teach them how to fly via a miniature plane. I highly recommend looking up photos or videos if you want to maximise your dopamine for the day, we could all do with more baby goslings throughout lock down. However there are some things that Lorenz, despite his best efforts, can’t recreate.

Once the Goslings grew up and reached their maturity they tried to mate with humans to, obviously, no avail. This does lead to one question, what was the point, what did Lorenz find out about attachments and more importantly imprinting. Most importantly he found out about the critical period which is 4-25 hours after a creature is born they need to form an attachment which will affect them for the rest of their lives as shown by the aforementioned mating with humans. Lorenz spent his life working with Goslings but some people tend to question the ethics of what he did. Some people, the kind of people who don’t like seeing baby goslings fly next to a plane, said that what he did was cruel and left the Goslings in an unnatural confused existence as they were not biologically programmed for the kind of life Lorenz gave them. This is where your own personal view comes into place, was it worth confusing these Goslings for more information on imprinting and in turn human attachments. These questions are the bread and butter of psychology with no wrong answers as long as you can justify why you feel the way you do you are well on your way to become a top psychologist.

The next study is a lot more controversial. Harlow’s Monkeys study. Harlow took 16 Rhesus monkeys straight from birth and put them through many conditions and for the sake of simplicity we will only be going through a couple, though I highly recommend researching into this study in your own time. His aim was to see if comfort or hunger was more important in creating secure attachments. So he put a baby monkey in a room with a “mother” made out of wires but had a bottle in its mouth that the monkey could feed from and another “mother” next to it made out of cloth (the comfortable condition) but it didn’t give food. Might not seem too controversial at the moment but Harlow had to take it one step further and in another condition put either a toy spider or a loud banging mechanical robot into the enclosure to see which of the mothers they would go to. The most harrowing of all the conditions, where the monkeys that were not given any mothers and so when confronted by the loud banging monstrosity, ended cuddling into a ball in the corner and getting lost in their own world. Harlow wanted to note down how long the monkeys spent with the mothers and to observe how they grew up.


Spoilers, they grew up to become abusive mothers due to the fact that they never had a motherly bond and ended up hitting and even dropping their babies. However there is always a silver lining and in this ethically dubious cloud, it’s the creation of therapy monkeys. No not a typo. These were monkeys trained to teach the abusive mothers how to treat their children properly and a host more things, no they didn’t wear nurse outfits, yes I checked. In the end Harlow found out about innate biological triggers to attachment and more about the long term ramifications of poor early infant relationships. 

Hopefully by now you have had your fill of distressed monkeys and sexually confused goslings and are looking forward to learning more psychology studies, well here are some honourable mentions: the little Albert study, where they teach a child to associate a white rat with fear, or Pavlov’s dogs, a classic study teaching us about the fundamentals of operant conditioning through dogs spits and bells and many more studies out there waiting for you to find and bring up during your next lockdown family dinner.