Dana Simmons on “Hungry, Thinking with Animals: Psychology and Violence at the Turn of the Twentieth Century”

The 2020 volume of Osiris edited by W. Patrick McCray and Suman Seth and dedicated to “Food Matters” is now available. Among the contributions to this volume is one that will particularly appeal to AHP readers: “Hungry, Thinking with Animals: Psychology and Violence at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” by Dana Simmons. Abstract:

Edward L. Thorndike (1874–1949), at the turn of the twentieth century, set up animal hunger as a model system for understanding human motivation and learning. Hungry animals participated in over a hundred years’ worth of experiments designed to characterize human emotions and behavior. Hunger, along with electric shocks, became standard tools for producing psychological effects, such as motivation, excitement, fear, learning. Scientists deprived kittens, monkeys, chicks, turtles, children, and soldiers of food for four, eight, twenty-four, or forty-eight hours to observe the variable effects. I want to think through the meaning and context of this choice. What is the nature of hunger as an epistemic tool and as a model system? Why did hunger appeal to Thorndike and his colleagues at the turn of the twentieth century as a reasonable and productive relation with their animal subjects? What preexisting relations made hunger an obvious choice? What relations, in the end, did hunger experiments produce? I am interested in how hunger, as a model system, helped to establish a field of behavioral-physiological-neuroscientific knowledge. I am even more interested in what the traces of these model systems, and the animals within them, can tell us about the history of hunger. In the global nineteenth century, hunger was a tool for social violence.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.