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:
- What is the method for performing such experiments?
- What are some example experiments?
- What are possible questions to ask?
This lesson will answer those questions.
The method to perform an experiment and get results is to:
- 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?"
- Establish the situation and perform the experiment
- Make an observation on the response, behavior, or what happens.
- 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."
- 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.
The following material are a few examples of experiments to study behavior.
- Question: How would a house plant behave if you put it on its side?
- Experiment: Put a number of plants on their sides and observe what happens after a period of time.
- Observed results: The plant soon curves upward.
- Rule: If a plant is on its side, then it will grow upward.
- Reason or conclusion: A plant always grows away from gravity.
Lost wallet experiment
- Question: How would a person behave if he or she found a wallet with money in it? You can also ask what you would do in such a situation.
- Experiment: Put an old wallet on the bus bench. include some pieces of paper and tear off the corner of a $5 bill and have it sticking out, as if there was some money in the wallet.
(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.)
- Observation: A woman and her 10 year old daughter came to catch a bus. The girl said, "Mommy! A wallet." The mother said, "Shh!" Then the mother secretly slipped the wallet into her purse.
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.
- Rule: If a person find a lost wallet, some may quickly take it, while others may see who it belongs to.
- Conclusions: Some people are honest, some aren't.
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 other experiments include:
- How would a dog behave to a bell if we always rang the bell before feeding time?
- How would a mouse behave if we arranged that he won every fight?
- How would a plant behave if we set it on its side?
- How would a person driving a car behave if someone cut him off and gave him the finger?
- How would a person behave if she saw a wallet laying on a bench?
- How would a house plant behave if you put it on its side? The plant would soon curve upward, because it grows away from gravity.
- How would trees behave if the days got shorter but the temperature was still summer-like? They still lose their leaves.
- How would a plant behave if deprived of water? The leaves will often get limp.
- What happens to a flowered plant that you put in a cooler environment? The flowers stay in bloom longer.
- What happens to a plant if you put it by a sunny window? It grows toward the sun. or light.
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
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