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They might seem unlikely candidates
for psychological analysis, but pigeons
have given a revealing insight into how animals, including
be bound by superstition...
In the Summer of 1947, renowned psychiatrist
Skinner published his study on a group of pigeons that showed even animals are
susceptible to the human condition that is superstition.
Skinner conducted his research on a group of
hungry pigeons whose body weights had been reduced to 75% of their normal weight
when well-fed. For a few minutes each day, a mechanism fed the birds at regular
intervals. What observers of the pigeons found showed the birds developing superstitious
behaviour, believing that by acting in a particular way, or committing a certain
action, food would arrive.
By the end of the study, three quarters of the
birds had become superstitious. One pigeon, in pursuit of food, believed that
by turning around in the cage twice or three times between being fed, but not
just in any direction; the bird learnt to turn anti-clockwise and appeared to
believe that this would mean it being fed. Now, it's easy to dismiss such behaviour
as normal - a bird in a cage might be expected to exercise a little. But the
other birds developed unique supertitious behaviours in an attempt to gain a
meal. Other behaviors the observers discovered include what they described as
a 'pendulum' movement of the head, and a regular nodding movement in another