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Studying Behavior with Experiments

by Ron Kurtus (revised 27 September 2011)

The situation is that we have an organism and would like to study or find out more about its behavior. One method to do this is to subject the organism to some special conditions to see what would happen. These are called experiments. From the resulting behavior, we can draw conclusions and make some behavioral rules.

Questions you may have about this are:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Method

The method to perform an experiment and get results is to:

  1. Ask a question concerning how the organism would behave under these circumstances. For example, ask: "How would a chimpanzee in a cage behave if we hung a banana from the ceiling, almost within reach?"
  2. Establish the situation and perform the experiment 
  3. Make an observation on the response, behavior, or what happens.
  4. Restate observation as a rule. For example: "If a chimp sees a banana hanging from the ceiling, then he will usually try to jump to reach it."
  5. Draw a conclusion or propose some reasons for the behavior. These could be further rules, based on your supposition. For example, if you think the reason the chimp jumps to reach the banana is because he wants to use it as a weapon, you might conclude: "If a chimp sees a weapon, he will try to get it" and "Chimps use bananas as weapons." Obviously, these rules are subject to argument. 

Example experiments

The following material are a few examples of experiments to study behavior.

Plant experiment

Lost wallet experiment

(I did this experiment as a joke when I was a teen. My mother was with me at the shopping center. I placed the wallet near the end of the bench, and we sat toward the other end to see what would happen.) 

Note that this was just one case. Someone else may have asked if we lost a wallet or tried to return it to its owner.

Historical experiments

There have been scientific experiments, as well as some done for the entertainment value.

Candid Camera television show is a good example of trying to see how unsuspecting subjects respond to humorous situations. In general, this was good natured fun, but there were cases from imitations of this show where the subjects were humiliated or frightened out of their wits by the stunt. (See Studying Behavior on Candid Camera for more information.)

Obviously, experiments must not be done that will harm the subject in any way.

Possible experiments

Possible other experiments include:

Summary

Performing experiments on other people, animals or plants to see the response is a valid way to study behavior. From the resulting behavior, you can determine rules and suggested reasons for the behavior.


Experiment on helping others succeed.


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

Behavior Resources

Books

Top-rated books on Behavior Experiments


Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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