Monitor on Psychology - December 2011 - (Page 30)

Capsule tIme Lessons from bird brains Eckhard Hess’s research on imprinting helped to popularize an emerging field of research — one that that explored genetic and learned aspects of early behavior. by CAthy fAyE n 2003, as winter began to creep across the Russian tundra, a man in a hang glider led a small flock of Siberian cranes on a 3,000-mile migration from the Arctic Circle to the Caspian Sea. The birds needed the help. Traditional migratory routes led the endangered birds over the dangerous and war-torn skies of Pakistan and Afghanistan, exposing them to gunfire. And the captive-bred birds simply didn’t know how to get to their winter feeding grounds. Italian aviator Angelo d’Arrigo showed them the way — and the cranes followed, thanks to principles of imprinting cleverly harnessed by scientists at the Crane Breeding Centre at the Oka Nature Reserve, near Moscow. Famously described by zoologist Konrad Lorenz in the 1930s, imprinting occurs when an animal forms an attachment to the first thing it sees upon hatching. Lorenz discovered that newly hatched goslings would follow the first moving object they saw — often Lorenz himself. As a result, he was often trailed by a half-dozen waddling geese as he tended the grounds of his Austrian estate. Though Lorenz’s work spurred interest in the early social attachment of animals, scientists found it difficult to study. Because young animals would often imprint on the first object they saw, imprinting research required complete control of the environment. In the 1950s, a young psychologist 30 I named Eckhard Hess (1916–86) devised an apparatus for just this purpose. As a young boy in Germany, Hess took an early interest in animals raised in his family’s barnyard in East Prussia. Later, when they moved to the suburbs, he began observing animals in nearby forests and fields, often bringing them home with him. When Hess was 11, he and his family immigrated to the United States. He earned a PhD in psychology in 1948 from Johns Hopkins University, then took a position at the University of Chicago, where he remained for the rest of his career. In the 1950s, Hess and A.O. Ramsay, a high school biology teacher from Maryland, began studying imprinting in the laboratory with papier-mâché mallard ducks fitted with off-center wheels that mimicked waddling. The researchers created a great variety of model ducks to experiment with, including ducks with moving heads and ducks with built-in heaters. By means of pulleys and cords operated from a distance, Hess and his colleagues released newly hatched ducklings from a small cardboard box. The model duck would emit a sound — either a tape-recorded duck call or a human mimicking one — and move around a runway via a motorized arm. Levers on the runway floor kept track of the ducklings’ steps to measure their following behavior. At the end of the experiment, a trap door in the runway’s floor returned the ducklings to their box. With this imprinting apparatus, Hess and his colleagues tested several scenarios. For example, they found that the ducklings could also be imprinted on objects other than papier-mâché decoys. Ducklings would also follow a colored sphere, but imprinting was stronger for blue spheres than for white ones. Hess and Ramsay also tried unsuccessfully to imprint ducklings with auditory cues before they hatched by placing speakers in the incubator or nest. Over the course of many experiments, the researchers found that prime time for imprinting was 13 to 16 hours after hatching. Like previous imprinting researchers, References Bateson, P. (2003). The promise of behavioural biology. Animal Behaviour, 65, 11–17. Hess, E.H. (1958). Imprinting in animals. Scientific American, 198, 81–90. Hess, E.H. (1973). Imprinting: Early experience and the developmental psychobiology of attachment. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. Hess, E.H. (1985). The wild goose chase. In D.A. Dewsbury (Ed.), Leaders in the study of animal behavior: Autobiographical perspectives (pp. 183–191). Cranberry, NJ: Associated University Presses. Monitor on psychology • DeceMber 2011

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Monitor on Psychology - December 2011

Monitor on Psychology - December 2011
President’s Column
From the CEO
Willpower Pioneer Wins $100,000 Grawemeyer Prize
Single-Sex Schooling Called Into Question by Prominent Researchers
Maternal Depression Stunts Childhood Growth, Research Suggests
For Boys, Sharing May Seem Like a Waste of Time
Good News for Postdoc Applicants
In Brief
Treatment Guideline Development Now Under Way
Government Relations Update
Psychologist Named Va Mental Health Chief
The Limits of Eyewitness Testimony
Judicial Notebook
Random Sample
Time Capsule
Deconstructing Suicide
A Focus on Interdisciplinarity
A Time of ‘Enormous Change’
The Science Behind Team Science
Good Science Requires Good Conflict
A New Paradigm of Care
Speaking of Education
Science Directions
New Labels, New Attitudes?
Psychologist Profile
Early Career Psychology
Unintended Consequences
Better Options for Troubled Teens
Saving Lives, One Organ at a Time
New Journal Editors
APA News
Division Spotlight
Guidelines for the Conduct of President-Elect Nominations and Elections
American Psychological Foundation

Monitor on Psychology - December 2011