Beaver Control;mice

From Tom Bourbon [930817.1435]

[From Rick Marken (930817.0930)

I can't believe that no one picked up on this wonderful post from
Avery Andrews (930815.2100) --

A beaver will cast about quite frantically for something--anything--to
stop the sound of running water, and in one experiment a beaver found
its relief by plastering mud all over the loudspeaker from which the
recorded gurglings emerged!

cited from Wilsson, 1974, Observations and Experiments on the Ethology
of the European Beaver, Viltrevy, Swedish Wildlife 8, pp. 115-266.

This is a great example of perceptual control. I think anyone could
understand the implications. The sound is not a "stimulus" for "dam
building behavior" because the beaver will clearly do "anything" to
stop the sound; any behavior that produces the intended result will
apparently do. The beaver is clearly controlling a perception (of
sound) but we see this behavior as "dam building" when the beaver
is controlling this perception in it's natural environment. In an different
sort of environment, with a different feedback function relating the
beaver's outputs to its perception of sound, the same process of
perceptual control looks like "plastering mud on a loudspeaker". Beaver's
that live in the "loudspeaker and mud" environment would be described
as "speaker plasterers" rather than dam builders. This is the ecological
version of the "behavioral illusion" -- the "ecological illusion"?

I agree with Rick that this is a great example of control that isn't
recognized as control. It reminded me of some work in the 1960s by a
zoologist at UCLA, J. Lee Kavanaugh. I had a file with some quotes from him
and I have worked them up into a summary. Along with Avery's example, I
think it is another illustration of the pervcasiveness and power of control
by those who seem least likely to show it -- animals in laboratories.

                    Kavanaugh's Wild Mice


J. Lee Kavanaugh (1964). Behavior: Confinement, Adaptation, and
Compulsory Regimes in Laboratory Studies. Science, 143: 490.

Kavanaugh was in the Department of Zoology at UCLA, where he
often studied the behavior of wild mice, usually of the genus
*Peromyscus*, recently made captive; but they were captives in an
enclosure rich with means by which an animal could affect many
different environmental variables.

My first exposure to Kavanaugh came while I was a student in the
early 1960s, when a faculty member required that we read one of
his articles that reached the same conclusions as this short
article. He intended for us to see one major point and that is
all I saw. It was:

"The thesis of this article is that much of the adaptive response
behavior of domestic animals is lost because they are inbred and
many generations removed from their natural environments. The
behavior demonstrated in the laboratory is limited and does not
display "the full range and vigor of responses" available to the
species in its wild state."

This message was appreciated by professors eager to overthrow the
Skinnerian and Hullian "rat runners" who had dominated
experimental psychology for decades. This challenge to the
authenticity of the behavior of animals bred for the laboratory
was an early salvo in the so-called cognitive revolution.

What I missed then and saw for the first time about four years
ago was this:

"... when given the means to modify their environment in ways
that do not subject them to great stress, captive rodents
exercise this control repeatedly. These animals find it
rewarding to attain and exercise a high degree of control over
their environment, perhaps in partial substitution for the
freedom of action enjoyed in the wild but denied by confinement.
Accordingly, rodents repeatedly turn on and off (or otherwise
modify) any suitable variable placed under their control, whether
it is intracranial stimulation, a motor-driven activity wheel,
lights or sound, or whether it is merely the ability to visit a
nest, run a wheel, jump on and off a platform, patrol an
enclosure, traverse mazes, or gnaw wood into fine fibers."

"When a confined animal is exposed to arbitrary or unexpected
changes in environment or regime, but is provided with the means
for counteracting these changes, it typically does so. For
example, if the experimenter turns on a motor-driven activity
wheel in which the animal is forced to run, but which the animal
can turn off, the animal immediately and invariably turns the
motor off. Conversely, if the animal is running a motor-driven
activity wheel that it has turned on itself, and the experimenter
turns the motor off, it immediately turns the motor back on.
Similarly, if a light is periodically turned on by the
experimenter and the animal can operate a stepping switch which
steps it off by degrees, the animal generally steps it fully off.
If, instead, the experimenter periodically turns the light off,
the animal, even though nocturnal, often steps the light fully
on. Only after weeks of this full opposition to arbitrarily
imposed conditions does the animal adapt to the regime and adjust
the light intensity to a characteristically preferred low level,
rather than merely to the opposite extreme of the imposed

"Thus, taken alone, the nature of a specific stimulus (or
activity) is an unreliable guide for interpreting the behavior of
small mammals given control over its initiation or cessation, or
both, or forcefully exposed to it. The seemingly enigmatic
findings on self- and non-self-initiated intracranial stimulation
and on the effects of shock on learning and avoidance no longer
are paradoxical when the effects of subjecting experimental
animals to compulsory regimes and of greatly limiting their
control over their environment are taken into account."

COMMENT: What my professor and I had overlooked was the
extraordinary report that animals taken into the laboratory and
given a means to do so will control their own experience and will
precisely oppose any arbitrary external influences on that
experience. I never even saw that the first time around.

There was more, and it was even more impressive than the material
I just quoted.


J. Lee Kavanaugh (1966). Automatic Monitoring of the Activity of
Small Mammals. Chapter 5 in Kenneth E. F. Watt (Ed), Systems
Analysis in Ecology, New York: Academic Press, pages 99-146.

I will not quote all of this long chapter. It is filled with
excellent examples, much like the material in the short article I
quoted above. But I will summarize and quote from sections on
what I think is one of the most remarkable series of experiments
in the annals of animal behavior.

In the wild, nocturnal mice of the genus *Peromyscus* experience
natural cycles of light and dark, and of phases of the moon.
There, they experience a range from bright full sun at noon, to
the light of a full moon, to the darkness of a starry moonless
night. They are more active when the light level is that of a
clear moonless night, than when it is half the intensity of a
full moon. They are much less active when illumination is at the
intensity of a full moon. During the day, they go to their

"The actions of *Peromyscus* under conditions in which they are
able to control the intensity of the ambient illumination are of
interest for several reasons. Aside from the question of whether
mice given the means of controlling the ambient illumination will
tend to do so, one wishes to ascertain (1) whether the mice will
show marked preferences for intensities which approximate
conditions in the wild, (2) whether completely volitional
alterations of the intensity of illumination will be rewarding to
the extent that the animals carry out such alterations
repeatedly, and (3) whether volitional alterations of otherwise
unvarying illumination will modify the endogenous circadian
rhythmicity of the animals" (p. 115).

Kavanaugh found that in the laboratory where the animals alone
could determine the level of the light, they created a cycle of
light intensity with the same rhythmicity as the natural one, in
the wild. What is more, they adjusted the lights to suit their
activity levels! When it was time to sleep, the mice turned the
lights up to daylight intensities. When it was time to be awake,
but not out and about, they adjusted the lights to the level of
moonlight. But when it was time for mice to play, they adjusted
the lights to the intensity of a Van Goghian starry night!

Kavanaugh discussed the implications of these results for
traditional ideas, for example, the "fact" that the daily cycle
of light and dark drives the activity cycles of many species.
And he discussed the fact that these animals also control their
exposure to light in the wild, through what others call "passive
reactions" like going into and out of burrows, or into and out of
various environmental settings.

All in all, it was some elegant work.

Until later,

Tom Bourbon