Operant_Conditioning

Operant_Conditioning - Operant conditioning at the NC Zoo...

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Operant conditioning at the NC Zoo Category:  Brain & Behavior  •  News Posted on: September 22, 2008 8:36 AM, by  Dave Munger You might think the zoo is an odd place for psychology bloggers to meet up. But on  Saturday not only did Greta and I get a chance to connect with some of our readers and  fellow bloggers, we also received some fascinating insight into the psychology of  zookeeping. Our group toured the North Carolina Zoo, led by Jayne Owen Parker, Ph.D.,  the Director of Conservation Education of the Zoo Society. As we strolled from exhibit to exhibit and listened to Jayne's comments, we were struck by  how frequently psychology enters into the daily routine of managing a zoo. Through  operant conditioning , the animals are trained to assist the zookeepers in practically every  zoo function, from feeding, to grooming, to medication and contraception. Operant conditioning is simply the use of rewards and punishment to modify behavior, and  examples of this process abound at the zoo. When Jim and Nora were younger, we visited the zoo quite regularly, and one of our  favorite animals was the elephant (or "Dumbo" as our kids called them). But the NC Zoo  provides the elephants with a generous enclosure, and it seemed that every time we  visited, they were at the far end of their space, to the consternation of children who wanted  to get a close look. Don't elephants  like  toddlers?  On Saturday, we were excited to see an elephant right up near the viewing area: 
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Jayne told us that this wasn't a coincidence. In the last decade, zookeepers realized that  their feeding schedule was affecting the elephants' behavior. Every day at closing time,  they let the elephants into the barn for feeding. For several hours, as feeding time  approached, the hungry pachyderms gradually sidled towards the gate, so they'd get their  food as soon as the gate opened. So the zoo placed a new gate near the  front  of the  enclosure, and now at the end of the day the elephants go through that gate and then back  through a chute to the barn to get fed. So now the elephants sidle  towards  the excited zoo  visitors in anticipation of dinner, and everyone is happy! (By the way, there's a great  article   on elephants in this month's National Geographic.) At the elk and bison exhibit, Jayne explained that these animals would be content to remain  in their large "prairie" enclosure day and night, year-round, even in rain, snow, and sleet. 
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But the keepers occasionally do need to get the animals into the barn, for instance if a  tornado or hurricane is approaching. So they trained all the animals to respond to a sound 
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