Course of Psychology

Professor TANIUCHI Tohru (Psychology)

[Theme] Investigating the Mind by Studying Animals

My field of research straddles the psychology of learning and comparative psychology. In psychology, "learning" is the process by which living beings alter their behavior through experience. Avoiding someone who has hurt you in the past and therefore make you feel uncomfortable to see him/her is one example of a new behavioral pattern learned from experience. Basic studies incorporating animals form one of the main pillars of inquiry of the connection between experience and behavioral changes, not only because humans have already acquired certain behavior patterns from past experiences but also due to limitations in possible experimental manipulations.

A specific example of one of my projects is my ongoing collaborative research with the Ishikawa Prefectural University on applying learning psychology findings to the behavioral control of livestock animals. Because it allows animals to perform certain actions of their own volition, methods of behavioral control in the learning psychology is considered as holding great potential not found in traditional studies on livestock management.

Another subject that I have been working on recently is research with rats on the mechanisms by which living beings acquire sexual preferences through experience. Humans occasionally acquire sexual attractions such as fetishes or pedophilia toward subjects that would not normally be sex objects, with some of these deviations even occurring as threats to society. I investigate the possibility of "sexual conditioning" as one mechanism at play in such a situation, and conduct basic studies regarding the acquisition and correction of deviant preferences.

Animals often serve as stand-ins for humans in the psychology of learning. However, in the field of comparative psychology, it is the animals that take center stage as we explore how their minds work. Although it is possible for us to consider things from the viewpoint of another, it is considered that this is an ability quite possibly unique to us as humans. Furthermore, while we recognize objects as being "the same," this "same" is a relational concept between two objects, and an awareness that only emerges once this sort of concept is applied. Although it had been thought previously that the acquisition of this concept was limited to primates, it has since been found that other mammals and even certain birds recognize it as well. My laboratory's research has also successfully indicated that rats have a numerical concept. In addition, it has been suggested that the emotion of "frustration" originated in animals beginning as far back as reptiles. It had also been said that fish lacked the ability to adapt their behavior to suit information presented to them the way we can owing to our awareness. However, my laboratory's research has proved that fish do in fact possess a limited form of this ability.

This behavior experiments to see what sort of minds and perceptions of the world these animals to whom we cannot speak possess is my dream job that is very fulfilling and enjoyable. If this sort of research sounds interesting to you, then I hope you come and join me!

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