There are some animal models which are interesting, but I left them out of the static Introduction pages. I’m sure you’ll see why. This is just between us humans OK? Don’t let the monkeys see it, and certainly not the cats.

The paper The development and significance of abnormal stereotyped behaviours in tethered sows by G. M. Cronin is a massively cited classic that opened up lots of new research. Cronin describes how sows tethered in battery farming units start to perform abnormal, repetitive pacing and twitching behaviours.

It’s the stress. By performing these behaviours over and over again the sows raise a stress response - their endorphins in this case. The self-generated drug numbs them to the misery of their welfare status. I leave you to make your own comparisons with the whole social stereotypies, background stress, addiction, cognitive distortion thing.

The second animal model is a bit of a sanity check. Focussed attention is the common denominator in this culture, in language and custom. Strictly in its own terms, it’s hard to argue against it. Here’s Dr. Russell Barkley, an ADHD expert and a big fan of focussed attention, taken from his Fact Sheet:

Poor sustained attention or persistence of effort to tasks. This problem often arises when the individual is assigned boring, tedious, protracted, or repetitive activities that lack intrinsic appeal to the person. They often fail to show the same level of persistence, “stick-to-it-tiveness,” motivation, and will-power of others their age when uninteresting yet important tasks must be performed. They often report becoming easily bored with such tasks and consequently shift from one uncompleted activity to another without completing these activities. Loss of concentration during tedious, boring, or protracted tasks is commonplace, as is an inability to return to their task on which they were working should they be unexpectedly interrupted. Thus, they are easily distracted during periods when concentration is important to the task at hand. They may also have problems with completing routine assignments without direct supervision, being unable to stay on task during independent work.

This sounds kind of reasonable, especially if you’re only talking about the kind of Cog. Psych. tests that look at focussed attention, but what’s missing here? For a sanity check, there was a behavioural psychologist called Verhave, who trained pidgeons to do quality control work in a pharmacuticals factory. Pills can adopt many positions and orientations on a conveyor belt, so automating the detection of imperfect ones would be tricky today and certainly wasn’t possible in the 1960s. Humans are up to the job cognitively, but it’s so utterly boring their performance drops off pretty soon.

Pidgeons have no such impairment of their faculty of focussed attention, and can outperform a human any time on the single dimension of performance used by Dr. Barkley. The astonishing details of Verhave’s work are contained in Behavior Analysis and Learning by W. David Pierce and Carl D. Cheney. It’s a Google book so you can just click the link. There’s a drawing of the apparatus and everything. The humans only kept their jobs because the pidgeons’ droppings were a bit of a problem in a pill factory. It cannot be an advance to optimize ourselves such that it’s our toilet training that gives us the edge over the birds. We can do space stations.

The third animal model is the famous chimps beating the university students at spotting numbers:



This strikes me as very similar to the Embedded Figures Test, a kind of low level probe of highly parallelized operation, allowing the chimp to do it in one go, without sequentially searching for each form in sequence. (I’m hoping the chimps are just looking for forms they’ve been trained are sequential. Don’t tell me they can really count too?)

Also notice the way the chimp is moving - much more slowly and deliberately than the stabby movements of the human. This fits with the idea that the unstressed chimp has enough working memory to see the kata while the human must operate sequentially and then tries to work quickly.

It would be interesting to see if people who profess volitional control of their cognitive states can do any better than the chimp. Perhaps I should write an applet that uses a mouse. We can calibrate on university students (who are known to be rubbish at this) and then see if various subjects can do better or worse.

A tenner on His Holiness! H. Sapiens Represent!