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Jerry Hogan launches a book on behavioral study he has written as IEA's visiting professor

by Richard Meckien - published Jan 08, 2018 12:35 PM - - last modified Jan 19, 2018 10:25 AM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Mauro Bellesa.

Jerry Hogan - 2014
Ethologist Jerry Hogan, former visiting professor at the IEA

Writing a book that integrated the various fields of behavioral study, especially ethology and experimental psychology, into common basic language was a dream cherished for over 50 years by American ethologist Jerry Hogan, Professor Emeritus from the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto.

Hogan decided to take the opportunity to finally write the book in 2009, when the then director of the IEA, ethologist César Ades (1943-2012), invited him to present a project to be a visiting professor of the Institute. Released last November by the Cambridge University Press, 'Study of Behavior - Organization, Methods and Principles' ($ 99.99) is the result of the researcher's stay at the IEA from August 2013 to July 2015.

During a visit to São Paulo in the first week of 2018, Hogan gave an interview about the book and the various changes in the study of behavior in the last decades. The following is the edited version of the Q&A session.

IEA - Your idea of ​​writing a book relating what is common between ethology and experimental psychology arose more than 50 years ago, during your postdoc studies in the Netherlands. Since then both disciplines have been transformed and others related to them have grown, furtherly increasing the fragmentation of knowledge. In this sense, could one say that it was better to write this book now and by that be able to relate all the old and new fields of study?

Hogan - At that time, the great apparent discrepancy between ethology and experimental psychology was the idea that ethologists observe animals and their natural surroundings while psychologists observe behavior in the laboratory. In addition, ethologists are concerned with what many call instinctive behavior and psychologists look to learning. In a way, they are different, but if we think of a term of 'doctrine,' the psychologist and the ethologist are quite similar, since both try to understand how animals behave. Since then, both fields have changed dramatically. Ethology has become much more ecological and interested in different kinds of evolutionary explanations. Psychology changed from being interested in responding to the stimulus to something much more cognitive. Psychologists have understood that something happens in the brain between the stimulus and the response to it. Both original fields have become much more comprehensive and changed in many ways. One of the things I discovered is that many people felt that the old ideas were all wrong, that everything should be considered in a new way. To show that this is not true is one of the things I hope my book will do, because it is almost a historical book, which examines all the old ideas, modifies them and tries to show what is most relevant to the kind of thing people are currently doing.

Capa do livro "Study of Behavior"IEA - The preface mentions that this is not a normal course book, because you did not seek to make a review of relevant literature, but rather a monograph with your ideas on various aspects of behavior. Either way, can the achieved result be considered as a conception of how a behavioral researcher should be trained?

Hogan - I think so. The book presents behavior as I think it can be understood better, so that everyone can think about it. I introduce other ideas and show how my ideas could be used to interpret the same kinds of data that people are talking about. When I say that it is not a literature review, I mean that I do not say 'There are these ideas about this; this is mine and this is the way to compare it with the others.' It is also not a review in the sense of presenting examples in detail. The reader can see how the experiment has been done, how the conclusion was reached. The book features relevant things, such as 'A discovered this; B, that; C, that other; this is a good experiment, these are the ideas and that is how the experiment was done.' I think it is a good book to teach people to understand behavior and to show how they can research it.

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Jerry Hogan’s effort to bring structure to the fragmentation of ethology

IEA - When you speak of similarities between the fields of behavioral study does it mean that they deal with the phenomena in a similar way, arriving at near conclusions? Or are the approaches complementary?

Hogan - The phenomena are the same: animals, including people, doing something. This is behavior. How to investigate it and how to interpret it. Niko Tinbergen, one of the founders of ethology, had a list of four different types of questions that can be asked: what causes behavior, how it develops, what its value for survival is, and how it evolves. Psychologists in general are not interested in value for survival or evolution. Many ethologists have become interested only in evolution and no longer in the things of behavior. In fact, if you read a British course book on ethology, you will find almost no reference to what ancient ethologists used to do, or about things that psychologists and neurophysiologists are doing. On the other hand, neurophysiologists, who are interested in memory and related topics, do not talk about how behavior evolves. They present different questions. One of the things that Tinbergen said many years ago is that one should really look at phenomena in all different ways but a psychologist might say that evolution is not relevant to the study or that it is relevant but they will not care about it. That it is not necessary.

IEA - How did your stay at the IEA and the interactions with USP's researchers contribute to the production of the book?

Hogan - I taught a psychology course at USP in 1977, when I met César Ades. We kept in touch and I was back in Brazil in 2008 and 2009. When I was here, during a lunchtime, César suggested that I came here as a visiting professor. I thought that was a good idea, but I had to have a project. As I said in the preface, I had been thinking of writing the book for 50 years. I more or less knew what I had to do to present the proposal. They accepted me and I started my book. It was a continuation of my contact with Brazilian researchers. The offered conditions were excellent, especially the fact that no one bothers you. You sit in your office and no one knocks on the door to ask you to do anything. And if you need help, you just ask someone.

IEA - What are the perspectives for the study of behavior in the upcoming decades? Can new fields of study emerge to be integrated with existing ones?

Hogan - What the book can do is bring together people from different fields, such as neurophysiology, behavioral ecology and neuropsychology, who think differently from different perspectives, and allow them to use a common language. I think this is the real importance of the book: defining a type of language to talk about cognitive psychology, rat behavior, evolution. I use a basic vocabulary that applies to all of these fields. It is not much different from what other people are doing. You have to specialize in what you are doing in the lab or in a private study, but you should be thinking about things in terms of a broad picture.

IEA - After the effort of producing the book, do you intend to start some new project linked to the study of behavior?

Hogan - I am thinking about it. I have been collaborating with other people's experimental research. They are doing lab work. I have not been in a lab in a long time. I am not really observing animals, but I collaborate in the basic discussions about the experiments. I have to say that when I wrote the book I learned a lot. The chapters deal with different areas. What struck me is that some ideas from one area are very similar to those of another and I had never thought about these relations. If I have courage, I will write about them.

Photo: Sandra Codo/IEA-USP