IQ Zoo and Teaching Operant Concepts

By Bihm, Elson M.; Gillaspy, J. Arthur, Jr. et al. | The Psychological Record, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview
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IQ Zoo and Teaching Operant Concepts

Bihm, Elson M., Gillaspy, J. Arthur, Jr., Lammers, William J., Huffman, Stephanie P., The Psychological Record

From 1955 to 1989, Marian and Keller Breland's IQ Zoo, located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, served as an introduction to operant conditioning for many future psychologists (see Figure 1). Earlier, the Brelands had studied operant behavior under B. F. Skinner at the University of Minnesota and in his Project Pigeon lab, where they taught pigeons to guide bombs during World War II (Skinner, 1960). After the war, the Brelands parlayed the reinforcement of behavior via the automatic feeder into a remarkable display of the effectiveness of positive reinforcement (Breland & Breland, 1951, 1961; Gillaspy & Bihm, 2002; Skinner, 1979, 1983).


In 1947, the Brelands incorporated their business, Animal Behavior Enterprises (ABE), and based it upon the promise of operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. ABE worked with companies, amusement parks, and entertainment venues to provide a host of animals performing in a variety of anthropomorphic settings (Bailey & Gillaspy, 2005; Breland & Breland, 1951, 1961).

The Brelands moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1951 because it was a busy tourist center and because Keller did not like cold weather. Because there was such public interest in their work, they established the IQ Zoo in Hot Springs in 1955. At the IQ Zoo, chickens danced to rock-and-roll music (see Figure 2) and told fortunes, raccoons played basketball, rabbits kissed and propelled fire trucks, rabbits and cats played the piano, ducks turned on jukeboxes and strummed guitars, and cockatoos solved math problems (or so it anthropomorphically seemed). However, sometimes the animals did not act as expected, and the Brelands described these anomalies in the "Misbehavior of Organisms," published in the American Psychologist (Breland & Breland, 1961). Upon the advice of William Verplanck, they interpreted these findings along evolutionary lines and subsequently incorporated ethology into their work, for example, with herring gulls and ravens. After Keller died in 1965, biologist Robert E. Bailey served as CEO of the business; later, Marian and Bob married. Bob had worked with the Brelands in the early 1960s while serving as the first civilian director of the Navy's marine animal program at Point Mugu, California. As director of ABE, he developed many "control-at-a-distance" projects.


After Marian's death in 2001, the National Science Foundation provided funds to the University of Central Arkansas to preserve the remaining artifacts of ABE, now housed at the Archives of the History of American Psychology in Akron, Ohio. In the act of processing these materials, the current authors developed an online resource with pictures, documents, and audio/video clips, many with explanatory text, available for teacher and student use at the following website (1):

These IQ Zoo and ABE exhibits provide an entertaining introduction to operant behavior. This online resource describes animal acts created for industries, fairs, and amusement parks, as well as military-funded projects that trained gulls to rescue downed pilots in the water, pigeons to deposit or retrieve secret packages of information, ravens to take spy photographs with hidden cameras, and pigeons to fly ahead of convoys and spot snipers in the brush or in trees along the roadside (Bailey & Bailey, 1980; Marr, 2002).

The site also provides a step-by-step analysis of the behavioral technology that insured ABE's success. Because many of the self-contained units, like the capsule-vending and fortune-telling chicken, were "fancy Skinner boxes," the site provides an attention-grabbing introduction to basic operant concepts, including positive reinforcement, differential reinforcement, shaping, extinction, [S.sup.D] (discriminative stimulus), [S.sup.[DELTA]](S-delta), schedules of reinforcement, backward and forward chaining, and instinctual drift.

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