Psychology Students Apply Principles to Animal Training

Members of Cedarville University’s psychology organization, Psi Kappa Theta (PKT), visited the Cincinnati Zoo and learned about principles of psychology by interacting with various zoo animals. Photo courtesy of Crysta Hutchinson.

Members of Cedarville University’s psychology organization, Psi Kappa Theta (PKT), visited the Cincinnati Zoo and learned about principles of psychology by interacting with various zoo animals. Photo courtesy of Crysta Hutchinson.

by Bethany Brock, Public Relations Writer

April 22, 2013

Members of Psi Kappa Theta (PKT), the Cedarville University psychology organization, visited the Cincinnati Zoo last month for behind-the-scenes interaction with animals and the ability to see how principles of psychology can applied in animal training.

Each semester, PKT plans both academic and social events. This semester, the organization planned a visit to the zoo. 

The Cincinnati Zoo Curator of Animal Development and Training gave PKT members a personalized tour of various animal exhibits, as well as some behind-the-scenes interaction with animals in order to learn about operant and classical conditioning.

Melody Fisher, a senior psychology major and PKT president, said these psychology principles related to material covered in courses in the psychology department.

Zoo animal trainers took members into the elephant enclosure where members pet the elephants, took pictures and learned about the elephants’ daily care routine.  Afterwards, students interacted with baby Bat-Eared Foxes and Sifaka Lemurs.

David Brush, a senior psychology major and PKT member, said members went into the foxes' playroom with an animal trainer who showed them first-hand how psychological principles are effective for training animals.

Brush said, “In the learning and memory class, we discussed operant conditioning, part of which includes positive reinforcement. The trainers used this method to teach the foxes to obey them and preform a number of tricks.”

Brush said watching the animal trainer work with the foxes was a good example of one of the many possible functions of psychology, as the field offers countless real-life applications. 

“Overall, this trip was a wonderful experience and I am thankful for such unique opportunities provided by the psychology department and PKT,” said Brush.

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University attracts 3,400 undergraduate, graduate and online students to more than 100 areas of study. Inspiring greatness for over 125 years, Cedarville is a Christ-centered learning community recognized nationally for rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings and leading student satisfaction ratings. Visit the University online at www.cedarville.edu.