Tag Archives: Clever Hans

New: May 17 BPS Hist. of Psych. Disciplines Talk!

The next presentation as part of British Psychological Society’s History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological DisciplinesHistory of the Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series will take place in London next week. On Friday, May 17th Fabio De Sio and Chantal Marazia will present on, “The Psychic Hans effect: Experimental animal psi from Karl Krall to the present.” Full details, including the presentation abstract, follow below.

Location: UCL Institute of the Americas, Room 105, 51 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PN

Time: 6pm-7.30pm, Friday 17 May

Dr Fabio De Sio (Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf) and Dr Chantal Marazia (Europa-Universität Viadrina), ‘The Psychic Hans effect: Experimental animal psi from Karl Krall to the present’

This paper explores the issue of animal psi experimentation in the 20th century (ca.
1920s–1970s). The passage from what has been called the ‘anecdotal phase’ of animal
psychology to the experimental phase had a rather precise parallel in psi research. From
sources of marvel and anecdotal evidence of paranormal phenomena, in the course of the 20th century animals progressively became elements of a specific experimental setting. More specifically, rigorous animal experimentation was seen as a way of overcoming a number of problems and strictures deriving from the very nature of psi experiences.

Animals were seen as a source of ‘genuine’ instances of psychic phenomena, unaltered
by human culture and communication, as well as standardisable research material, allowing to overcome the scarcity and ephemerality of human cases. Nevertheless, the need to develop animal-specific paradigms raised as many problems as it was supposed to resolve. Making the animal (either in the wild or in the lab) the centre of experimental psychic research entailed the definition of a number of issues that were common to psychic research, animal psychology, physiology and zoology: the issue of animal subjectivity and individuality; that of the evolutionary stand of psychic powers (at what level of the evolutionary ladder were they supposed to belong, their correlation with the evolution of the nervous system, etc.); finally, that of the human–animal relation in the experimental setting (whether the process of bonding between animals and humans was to be considered part of the procedure or a source of confusion). By considering different examples of psi research on animals (both observational and experimental), we explore the ambiguous roles and meanings given to animals in experimental research.

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Karl Marbe’s Study of Basso the Chimpanzee

The Winter 2011 issue of the American Journal of Psychology includes a new translation of German psychologist Karl Marbe‘s work with the chimpanzee Basso (above). Marbe (right) began to work with Basso after the chimpanzee attracted great attention at the Frankfurt zoo for her apparent arithmetical skills. As Marbe describes in his autobiographical chapter in Carl Murchison’s series, History of Psychology in Autobiography,

This animal had brought thousands and hundreds of thousands of people into the Frankfort zoo to admire its arithmetical skill. Before her lay a pile of little tablets upon which the numbers from 1 to 10 had been written. Then the caretaker said, for example, “Basso, how much is 10 minus 8?” whereupon the chimpanzee took a tablet into her hand upon which stood the number 2. The caretaker thought that he had systematically instructed Basso in arithmetic, but then became convinced that, after all, her achievements were due not to instruction but rather to thought transference. The superintendent of the zoo was not able to account for the behavior of the chimpanzee. And when, while I was temporarily staying in Frankfort, I had occasion to see Basso at work, I too was completely at a loss.

Marbe came to undertake a number of systematic investigations with the chimpanzee in an effort to explain Basso’s arithmetic abilities. As in the earlier case of Clever Hans – the horse who could perform simple calculations – Marbe found that it was the subtle, unconscious movements of Basso’s keeper that were cuing the chimpanzee into the answers to the arithmetic questions being posed.

Read the English translation of Marbe’s account of his research on Basso in “Arithmetic in the Chimpanzee Basso in the Frankfurt Zoological Park Together With Remarks to Animal Psychology and an Open Letter to Herr Krall From Karl Marbe,” translated by Heidi L. Shaw and with an introduction by R. Allen Garner.

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