This news release describes past events and should be used for historical purposes only. Please note date of release.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
Behavioral Psychology Class
Part of Science Summer Institute
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: June 30, 1998

EAU CLAIRE — If you see 20 adolescents running around with T-shirts that read "Certified Pigeon Trainers," don't worry — the zoo isn't taking over the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
The youths are part of a behavioral psychology class being taught through the annual Science Summer Institute. Participants in the class learn basic behavioral psychology techniques that the students then use to shape pigeons' behaviors during the second week of the class.
Besides teaching these basic techniques, one of the class goals is "to get students to be more critically thinking about human behavior," said Larry Morse, chair of the psychology department and one of two instructors for the class.
Dawn Kalsow, associate lecturer of psychology, also teaches the class. In addition, the two have three assistants: Scott Ritter, Megan Teut and Nate Whittier.
"We want students to see the applicability of basic techniques to human problems," Morse said of the class.
Students first learn psychology basics from an interactive computer program. They then apply it to another program, where they train a computerized rat.
But for the students, Morse said, the third section, when they get to train the pigeons, is the most interesting. Although the class has been taught for years, the pigeon lab only has been included during the last four years.
"When they can (train the computerized rat), they decide what behavior they'd like to shape in the pigeon, they build all the equipment, and build their own food delivery apparatus," he said.
Food is used to shape the pigeons' behavior by rewarding the pigeons when they perform the desired behavior.
Students, working in groups of three, choose what behavior they want the pigeon to learn, and devise a means for getting the pigeon to behave in the specified manner, Morse said.
Previous groups have taught the birds to dance, to dance only when music is playing and to peck at specific objects, he said.
The class is open to 12- to 16-year-olds, he said. Most of the students live in Wisconsin, but a few come from Minnesota and other places.
"It's a really nice change of pace, working with middle and high school children," Morse said. "The kids are enthusiastic and really eager and active which is kind of fun."


UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: June 29, 1998