Twentieth Century Psychology: Recent Developments in Psychology

By Philip Lawrence Harriman | Go to book overview

ANT LEARNING AS A PROBLEM IN COMPARATIVE PSYCHOLOGY

T. C. SCHNEIRLA

American Museum of Natural History and New York University

Solomon's well-known counsel to the sluggard stands as a testimonial to the antiquity of man's interest in the activities of ants. Like the weather, these insects are always around, forcing themselves upon our attention in various ways both theoretical and practical. Among the theoretical problems of long standing, wondering how ants reach food and find their way home unquestionably stands near the head of the list. Actually, the question of ant orientation or way-finding was one the first to stimulate serious investigation as a problem in animal behavior. Let us see how this led to the notion that learning has a place in the picture.

The first investigation of ant way-finding was Bonnet's simple finger-test ( 1779): by rubbing a finger across the route of an ant procession he set up a disturbance which suggested that the travellers were following an actual trail on the ground. Such tests provided the basis for the chemical-trail conception, which held sway in the early literature and now remains as a popular notion that ants in general make their way by following a chemical track.

If all ant orientation were that simple there would be little point in introducing the subject into a serious psychological treatise. However, the phenomenon usually is much more complex

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