Jun 4, 2024

After 46 years as a psychologist - I wonder what I have really learned about behavior.

My first job was unloading stuff from railroad box cars. I learned the value of a beer break. My second job was dog catcher. I learned to about humanity and how to put animals to sleep (forever). A job my mom said changed me.

My third job in 1969 was psychology teaching assistant. I am still teaching, but my topics have changed.

In addition, to TA, my next paying job was lab technician in charge of the pigeon room. Later I was promoted to research assistant. For the next 16 years I studied animal behavior as a model for understanding human behavior. For the next 20+ years I studied, observed, and advised mental health and business executives about employee behavior, management, and leadership.

The other night watching TV in the living room, I picked off my shoes (normal), except one went under a footstool rather than under our coffee table. The next morning our cat Ki Ki followed me into the living room and when she got within a foot of the stool she jumped straight up, crouched down, and backed out of the room. You could say the shoe surprised her and she fled the potential danger. This explanation supposes she has a memory of the past environment, and the detected change caused an innate response (startle) or a learned response (avoidance).

Cat experts talk about the startle response being innate, a reflex. By saying this they are not explaining how the cat knows the environment has changed.

My behavioral mentors typically would have to stay outside the organism and would talk about stimulus control and operate reinforcement, punishment, and avoidance. One problem to this is kittens exhibit the same behavior without a learning history. My wildlife friends would talk about fixed action patterns and genetics. Again, merely a description not really an explanation.

I wish when I was conducting animal research in psychology and wildlife labs, we had actually investigated behavior natural to the species. In the 1970s we believed genetics, biology, neurology, and psychology were separate sciences studying their own - different - domains. Now that isn't so clear.

Here is a link talking about the startle response in cats.