Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature

By Douglas Keith Candland | Go to book overview

5
The Psychology of Experimentalism and Behaviorism: Clever Hans and Lady Wonder

THE TERM behaviorism is now used to describe almost any epistemology that sets hypotheses and tests them by measuring behavior itself Often it is incorrectly used to describe any experimental work with animals. By measuring the behavior only, the status of mind is put outside the scheme. At first, it strikes us odd to have a science of psychology that is uninterested in the mind, but upon consideration we can understand the logic. Mind is yet one more example of the human invention of categories. Unless we can define it accurately and meaningfully, the concept can become a trap. The trap is one not unlike Freud's description of "suggestion," and we moderns may add "Instinct" to the list of examples.

Behaviorism does not have a simple, specifiable, time of birth. But the analysis of the horse, Clever Hans, illustrates so well the tenets and powers of the experimental method when applied to behavior that it is the centerpiece of this chapter. The chapter that follows pursues the story of Clever Hans, not for what it says about behaviorism, but for what the end of Hans's life tells us about human and animal interaction.

Over the years, with its numerous retellings, the story, of Clever Hans has become distorted. The story of Clever Hans is often cited by those who practice sign language with chimpanzees (for example, researchers who appear in Chapters 10 to 12), but only a few of such accounts are reliable and some are astonishingly wrong. The point is important because the ape sign-language trainers are sometimes accused of the same errors that were made in the study of Clever Hans.

The second part of the story as told in Chapter 6 concerning Clever Hans's life after his role as an experimental subject ended is mostly unknown, I think, chiefly because the documents did not survive World War I in quantity. Or perhaps the reason is that the parable to be extracted from the tale did not fit the psychologies of the times any more than "suggestion" suited Freud.

Let us examine what happened.

-111-

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