Robert Yerkes Essay

1188 words - 5 pages

In Robert M. Yerkes article Nature and Conditions of Avoidance (Fear) Response in Chimapnzee Yerkes, like the title suggests, devised an experiment to find out the nature of and the conditions necessary for chimpanzees to show fear responses to a number of different stimuli. Yerkes (1936) discusses how that avoidance responses in chimps may be hereditary and determined prior to any previous experience, while avoidance to potentially dangerous objects such as a snake on the other hand, may be acquired. Yerkes (1936) notes that previous observations on such a topic found that the strength of avoidance responses in groups of captive chimpanzees was positively correlated to age, and also with ...view middle of the document...

Lastly, the last object presented was a glass snake or legless lizard whose activity was extremely variable.
The procedure for the experiment was that each object was to be placed in front of the subject and readily accessible to it for examination (Yerkes & Yerkes, 1936). All of the inanimate objects were placed on the wall of the cage near the floor, while all the animate objects were put onto the cage floor where they were able to move around freely. The responses from the subjects were then observed for up to five minutes, then the object would be removed which would be followed by a blank interval of fifteen minutes, and then the next test object would be presented. This carried on until all five objects had been used (Yerkes & Yerkes, 1936). To rate the responses of the subjects, Yerkes used a two-direction scale going from +4 to -4 with +4 being no evidence of inhibition and -4 showing the maximum level of avoidance responses, with zero being no response to the objects at all. Such a scale was chosen because two different types of behaviours were observed, either avoidance from the object out of fear and terror, or acceptance of the object primarily due to curiosity (Yerkes & Yerkes, 1936).
The subjects for this experiment consisted of 29 members of the chimpanzee breeding colony at the Anthropoid Experiment Station, which ranged from infants to adults and ranged from ages of one year to 22 years. It is important to note that Yerkes makes the distinction that these chimpanzees are in no way comparable to wild chimps, as all of them have spent the majority of their lives under human control (Yerkes & Yerkes, 1936). It is also important to note that the experience with the objects varied between the subjects, however more so between age groups than between individual subjects.
From this experiment, five significant characteristics and responses were of interest to consider. One, infants in general were less responsive than children and adults. Two, each age group showed maximum positive responses to the shuttlecock, while on the other hand showed maximum negative response to both the glass snake and the tortoise. Third, the rubber dog had the most variability in responses, as the infants tended to be curious about the dog while the adults tended to show avoidance responses, and such variability Yerkes argues is due to the differences in experience with living objects similar to the dog. Next, the adults more actively avoided the glass snake while the infants had stronger avoidance tendencies towards the tortoise. Again, Yerkes attributed these findings towards experience, since the infants had little experience with either due to...

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