The Misbehaviour of Organisms, Keller Breland and Marian Breland (1961)

In this article, the authors describe how powerful instinct is in animals.  This is so important to us when we are training our animals, and something we need to consider for many things outside of training as well.  For example, when our horses paw when eating out of a feed bucket they are exhibiting the instinct behaviour drift that the authors describe.  Horses move to eat, it is what they are supposed to do.  So when we ask them to eat out of a bucket many of them will show instinctive behaviour by moving a leg (pawing in the air).

I hope you enjoy the article and, despite its age, find it thought-provoking.



Keller Breland and Marian Breland (1961)

Animal Behavior Enterprises, Hot Springs, Arkansas

First published in American Psychologist, 16, 681-684.

There seems to be a continuing realization by psychologists that perhaps the white rat cannot reveal everything there is to know about behavior. Among the voices raised on this topic, Beach (1950) has emphasized the necessity of widening the range of species subjected to experimental techniques and conditions. However, psychologists as a whole do not seem to be heeding these admonitions, as Whalen (1961) has pointed out.

Perhaps this reluctance is due in part to some dark precognition of what they might find in such investigations, for the ethologists Lorenz (1950, p. 233) and Tinbergen (1951, p. 6) have warned that if psychologists are to understand and predict the behavior of organisms, it is essential that they become thoroughly familiar with the instinctive behavior patterns of each new species they essay to study. Of course, the Watsonian or neobehavioristically oriented experimenter is apt to consider “instinct” an ugly word. He tends to class it with Hebb’s (1960) other “seditious notions” which were discarded in the behavioristic revolution, and he may have some premonition that he will encounter this bete noir in extending the range of species and situations studied.


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