Analyzing and manipulating animal behavior has a long history, a piece of which was paid tribute to in May in a special issue of the Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB). The issue is filled with historical reviews and commentaries on the Harvard Pigeon Lab, which closed in 1998 after 50 years training some of the world's top experimental behavior analysts.
The articles do not lament something lost, but rather celebrate a tradition of research that grew from the lab that B.F. Skinner started in 1948.
"As students were turned out from the lab, they infiltrated the rest of American psychology and as a result the lab has been replicated many times over at various institutions," says behavioral psychologist and JEAB Editor Andy Lattal, PhD.
The theme throughout the articles, says Lattal, is the sense of freedom enjoyed by students from the laboratory. Once ensconced there, students were left to their own devices--their education was garnered through the subject matter rather than through direct instruction by Skinner. Richard Herrnstein, PhD--the last great behaviorist to teach at Harvard--ran the lab from the 1960s until his death in 1994. Soon after, interest in the lab diminished.
Its legacy is a tradition of combining basic behavioral research in animals and humans with questions related to philosophy, says Lattal.
"There was a general milieu at the lab that allowed the development of a philosophy of behaviorism," he says. "Students doing research in the lab also became leaders in the field of behavioral philosophy. The work piqued their interest in philosophical questions about problem solving and intentionality of behavior."
Of course, the science always comes first, he adds.
View the special issue at: www.envmed.rochester.edu/wwwrap/behavior/jeab/jeabhome.htm.