Operant conditioning at the NC Zoo
Posted on: September 22, 2008 8:36 AM, by
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
, 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
On Saturday, we were excited to see an elephant right up near the viewing area: