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Animal vs. Grad Student

From Play, by Stuart Brown:

One biologist who studied river otters decided to train some of them to swim through a hoop by offering a food reward for completing the task. Shortly after the otters learned to do this, the animals started introducing their own twists to the task. They swam through the hoop backward and waited to see if they got a reward. They swam through and then turned around and swam back through the other way. They swam halfway through and stopped. After each variation, they waited expectantly to see if this version of the task would earn a reward or not.

… By having fun and mixing it up, the otters were learning far more about the way the world works than if they had simply performed the initial task flawlessly. … The biologist ruefully noted that he had been trying for years to get his graduate students to use such playful investigation rather than rote learning and mechanical thinking in their research.

Comments 4

    1. Post
      Author
      Dan

      I’m still in the middle of it. I like the thesis a lot. The writing is decent, but doesn’t blow me away. There are some fun anecdotes throughout: one incident involves a polar bear having regular “playdates” with a sled dog (pictures included).

  1. Dave R

    Hey Dan,

    I like the quotation and the new look of the blog. Just wanted to let you know that for some reason posts show up twice in my RSS (Google Reader). And perhaps request that you publish the entire posts to RSS rather than just the leads. I hope everything is going well—seems like you’re having a blast!

    Dave

  2. Debs

    This anecdote reminds me of some of the ideas in Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. He talks about how play time outdoors leads to creatively inquisitive play. There’s something about encountering a thing you don’t expect (tree to climb, hoop in your stream, etc) and being intrigued enough to explore creative questions. The environment can make a huge difference in shaping (or dampening) curiosity. Maybe once we learn to be playfully investigative, our job is to practice applying that in other environments?

    Also, this biologist’s job sounds pretty fun. 🙂

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