Cockroaches and Activation Theory

By Anupum Pant

Robert Zajonc, a Polish-born American social psychologist proposed an activation Theory for social facilitation. Sounds tough, but read on. His first theory, in simple words, tried to explain the way our performance at some tasks increases in the presence of others, while the performance at some other tasks decreases.

According to him, the presence of other individuals around you serves as a source of “arousal” and affects performance (in good ways some times and bad ways the other times).

When this happens, he said, humans tend to do well at tasks which they are inherently good at, or tasks which they’ve practised well, or easy tasks which involve very little conscious cognitive effort. While the performance at other complex tasks, which aren’t well-learned is affected negatively, when there are other people watching you.

More interestingly, he also pointed that this change in performance isn’t only seen among humans.  An experiment that involved several cockroaches effectively proved this.

In two different cases, a cockroach was put in an easy maze to run around and find an exit. The first case had just the one cockroach running around in the maze. It did fine. But in the second case when there were other cockroaches watching the cockroach who was running in the maze, it ran faster. A clear increase in performance was noted in this easy maze.

Interestingly, when the difficulty of this maze was increased (it was a complex task now), as Robert had predicted, the cockroach’s performance decreased when other cockroaches were watching.

Ants and Their Friends

By Anupum Pant

Background

If you consider the habits, social organization, communities, network of roadways, possession of domestic animals, and counting skills of ants, they are not very different from humans. Yes, ants even domesticate animals. And we’ve talked about their counting skills in the past. Then, I came across a very interesting experiment sir John Lubbock decided to do on ants.

Experiment

He had in his captivity a number of varieties of ants living in different colonies. One day he saw a group of ants feeding on honey together. He picked twenty five of them and managed to intoxicate them by some method, others were left there, feeding on honey.

Next, he picked twenty five other ants of the same species, from a different colony and intoxicated them too. He then placed all of these 50 intoxicated ants near the honey, in the path which the ants were using to move to and fro from the honey.

He watched them for hours and it was an amazing thing he found. The twenty five ants which belonged to the same colony of ants that were feeding on honey were treated much differently by them, than the other 25 ants of the same species that belonged to a different nest! Somehow they were able to identify the ants of their own nest – differentiate friends from strangers.

Twenty out of the twenty five friend ants (which belonged the same nest) were carried by the honey feeding ants to their home. While about 18 of the other intoxicated stranger ants were picked up and thrown into water.
There were just 5 friend ants which were thrown into water (probably accidentally) and 6 stranger ants which were carried back to home (probably accidentally, again)

Nevertheless, most ants were correctly identified as friends and strangers. Moreover, I think their reaction to drunk friends and drunk strangers was so much like what human beings would do!

Next Experiments

In an experiment which he did later, the researcher tried separating friend ants (of the same nest) for about 4 months. And when they met after 4 months they were able to clearly identify each other. They caressed each other with their antennae.

In other experiments when he introduced a stranger ants in a nest, the strangers were evicted immediately and sometimes even killed.

There are a couple of other interesting experiments he has mentioned in his article here. Do read it whenever you find time. [link]

Killer Whale’s Ingenious Trick To Kill Sharks

By Anupum Pant

Background

Although mosquitoes are much much deadlier, Great White Sharks no doubt are dangerous animals too. It seems as if there’s nothing this big fish fears. But even this deadly hunter gets hunted.

On the other hand, Orca or the Killer whale is a relatively cuter animal. Remember Free Willy? But to me, these seemingly cute animals are in fact shrewd hunters who like to torture their prey before eating it. They’ve learnt well the tricks of the trade. I feel they are a lot like crows. That is to say, they are extremely intelligent and learn by observing.

For instance, to make seals sitting on ice pieces fall down, the killer whales know a good trick. They make waves and make the ice sheet wobble. As a result, seals fall down. Similarly, by sneaking up, making bubbles to trap fish and by using other such methods, these genius hunters make sure they get their prey.

Also, like Daniel Kish, they use echolocation. But Orcas use it to locate the prey. Still, their intelligence doesn’t always work.

Orcas kill sharks and they know a really efficient trick to do it successfully. They flip the sharks upside down. Here’s how they exactly manage to have “Shark sushi for lunch”.

Tonic Immobility + Ram Ventilation

To kill sharks they employ this very ingenious trick. They cash in on Tonic Immobility. Ironically, Tonic immobility is a defence mechanism some sharks use. Tonic immobility is something that a number of animals use for different purposes. Mostly they do it for defence by faking death.

During this state, their breathing becomes very relaxed and they might look as it they are dead. For instance, lobsters become immobile when they are stroked on their backs. Sharks can be flipped and they become immobile (not always). Everyone knows how Possums do it – they play Possum.

Now, since some sharks can’t breathe when they stop moving, due to something called ram ventilation, they drown. And isn’t that perfect for our Killer!

The killer whale  flips the shark, puts it to sleep. The shark stops breathing and dies. Then the killer whale goes and rips apart the tongue and liver of the shark, because that is all it eats. All the other parts of the dead shark drop to the sea bed.

Even these uneaten parts don’t go to waste, the other sea creatures have the time of their life eating them. They probably thank the odd little habit of the killer whale – the habit of eating just the liver and leaving everything else.

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