Science has found that monkeys will pay to watch monkey porn, as we mentioned in another article. But upon reading about those experiments (which involved filming monkey porn, training monkeys to watch it and then working out a complex system of compensation), some of you immediately had a rather important question: "What scientist was even wondering about that in the first place?"
This is when you realize that a huge amount of the scientific research done in the world seems to be based entirely on shits and giggles. For instance, there have been studies on ...
Back in the '60s, poultry specialists observed that male turkeys seemed to only be attracted to the faces of females. (When have you ever seen a turkey stare at another turkey's ass? Never.) So clearly it was time to find out just how far into Crazytown they could take the idea. "Oh, you like faces, Mr. Turkey? Well let's see you mate with this!"
Via Carbaugh, B., Schein, M., & Hale, E. (1962). Animal Behavior
"Well, I'm not really in the mood for mating, but I could use a little head."
Yes, that would be a real, severed female turkey head. On a stick.
In 1965, Pennsylvania State University researchers Martin Schein and Edgar Hale started the experiment reasonably enough by presenting male turkeys with a model of a female turkey. The living turkeys got their sex on, because they're just turkeys, and at the sight of a turkey-shaped object they were like "Close enough for my feathered boner!" The researchers then severed the feet, tail and wings from the model, and the oblivious turkeys kept on doing their thing.
Is anyone else imagining a deep Barry White voice making turkey sounds? "Blblblblblblblb!"
The researchers kept removing sections of the turkey until all they were left with was the head of the model. That didn't discourage the males one bit -- just the fake head was enough. That was all probably good data, and helpful to farmers and such who are looking for the best way to breed turkeys. And then the scientists were like "Well, we've come this far. Let's go put a real turkey head on a stick and see if we can get a male turkey to fuck it."
They did, and then they watched as the males frantically humped the severed heads of their lovers. All while at least one scientist in the room tried desperately to hide his erection.
"Fifty bucks says he fucks this, too."
Try something for us: yawn. Now watch how every friend or stranger nearby will also yawn. This baffling phenomenon isn't unique to humans (go try it on your dog), and scientists have long wondered why it happens. And at some point, scientists looked at a tortoise and said, "We must find out if it yawns when other tortoises do, for the good of mankind."
The problem was that they first needed to train a tortoise to yawn on command so they could see if the others around it followed suit. So Dr. Anna Wilkinson from the University of Lincoln in the U.K. spent six months teaching a red-footed tortoise to yawn, and at no point in that span did any of her friends stage some kind of an intervention.
She later taught a fish to swim and a giraffe to eat leaves.
We know you're wondering how in the possible hell she was able to teach the tortoise to do anything, but the process is basic behavioral conditioning. If you're looking to do this yourself, like say you just lost your job or whatever, just place a red piece of cardboard in front of your tortoise and continuously watch him or her. Every time your tortoise opens its mouth or does something resembling a yawn, feed it a piece of lettuce. Over the months and months you've spent staring at your tortoise, in dead silence, waiting for him to yawn as the clock behind you quietly ticks away the seconds of your life, the tortoise will eventually learn to yawn in response to the cardboard, without the lettuce. You have won.
And at the end of it, they put their yawning reptile in with the others and not a goddamned thing happened. It turns out that no, tortoises don't yawn just because another tortoise is doing it.
The field of Tortoise Psychology was rocked to its very core.
The study suggests that contagious yawning isn't the result of a pre-wired neural ("fixed action") pattern that fires whenever higher animals see other members of their group yawn, but rather requires a social cognition that lower-order creatures (like tortoises) lack. If true, it could provide a small but compelling new insight into the way we understand animal (including human) cognition.
Wilkinson also notes that any new understanding about reptile social behavior makes it easier to conserve endangered species. But you'd have to back up this claim with some solid evidence, most likely the kind that involves putting funny hats on animals while you shove them in neural imaging machines.
"Shhh. I'm doing cancer research."
There are two types of people in the world: people who would, given the chance, make monkeys swallow helium to hear what funny sounds they make, and people who lack any sense of wonder and joy. Put us in the same room with a helium balloon, and we're going to suck on that thing to hear ourselves talk like Donald Duck. The only thing stopping us from making our pets do it is that it's incredibly difficult to get a Rottweiler to suck on a balloon. This is why we have scientists.
"Note to self: The red one goes in its butthole."
In other words, when primatologist Takeshi Nishimura of Kyoto University in Japan placed a gibbon in a helium-filled chamber in order to study the sounds she produced, he did the most comprehensible thing any Japanese person has ever done. The result? The helium changed the gibbon's voice from the generic whine of a ghost puppy you've beaten one too many times to the generic whine of a baby you haven't quite beaten enough:
OK, maybe this wasn't just for the hell of it. Nishimura and his associates were trying to figure out the mechanism by which gibbons make their noises (it appears that gibbons consciously control their vocal system, much like humans do, except that they specialize in singing rather than speech). Great. Now stick a lion in there to see if it makes it sound like a house cat. Do it! Do it now!
In 1965, dolphin researcher John C. Lilly and associates ran a 10-week study to see whether a dolphin could be taught some basic concepts underlying human language, like colors and numbers, via card games. It makes sense -- dolphins are really smart, so we should find out as much about them as we can. What better way to do that than to basically make a dolphin and a human of the opposite sex live together in a water house?
The idea was that the test subject, an adult male dolphin named Peter, would be isolated from his peers; the human chosen to live with him and teach him should be similarly isolated. A pretty undergraduate named Margaret Howe was chosen, and she and Peter would live in a house in which all the furniture was submerged or wet, so that Peter could come and go as he pleased. It was basically Big Brother or The Real World, and maybe could have been the plot of a Disney movie, had there been no bestiality involved.
"OK, whaddaya say we just keep the camera above water for a few minutes?"
For you see, Peter got the hots for Maggie.
At the beginning, Peter was a perfect gentleman about it, expressing his love with gifts of frozen fish. And at this point Maggie was nowhere near psychologically broken enough to take his expressions of love seriously. But Peter wasn't about to take no for an answer. He began to bite and bruise Margaret in an attempt to get her to comply with his sexual will. This disturbed the researchers just enough for them to start taking Peter on conjugal visits with members of his own species. It didn't work because, like the male lead of every romantic comedy ever, Peter the rape-dolphin proved his love by obsessing over his single unwilling target.
So, in order to get Peter to be a cooperative test subject for the study, Maggie consented to rubbing his penis with her foot and hand, in exchange for his participation in the various experiments.
"Nope, it's not working. You're gonna have to blow him. For science."
After the study concluded, Maggie wrote a bizarrely pornographic account of her time with Peter in which she talked about both how terrified she was of dolphin rape and how the masturbation thing was special but not kinky, since she also did it when other people watched. Because public sex acts and Stockholm syndrome are apparently fine if your partner is a dolphin.
Lilly, meanwhile, considered the study to be a success, since Peter had picked up some basic linguistic concepts. He never repeated the experiment, however, and instead found an innovative new angle: communing with dolphins via shared acid trips. It didn't do much for his scientific reputation.
But that hat did wonders for his reputation with the ladies.
So earlier we had scientists who wanted to test turkeys' ability to get turned on purely by looking at a mate's head, and found that turkeys are incredibly stupid. Chimpanzees, of course, are considerably smarter, and as such, they tend to like asses. But how much? Clearly another experiment was in order.*
*No, they did not make a monkey have sex with a severed ass. We're telling you that right now so you won't be disappointed later.
"*Sigh* Fine, hand me the ass, but I'm just making it a quickie. I have feces to throw."
For researchers Frans de Waal and Jennifer Pokorny of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, the first step was to photograph some chimp asses. They had to make sure the genitals were showing as well (you know, for the experiment). Then they sifted through the photos they took to make sure they had the clearest, best chimp ass shots, at which point they grabbed some friends of those chimps and forced them to look at the ass photos while screaming something like "RECOGNIZE THIS? WELL DO YOU?!?"
They totally did -- six different chimps were tested this way and they were (for the most part) able to say, "Yep, that's Steve's ass." The chimps couldn't talk, obviously -- they had a system worked out where the chimps had to match a photo of the ass to the face.
de Waal and Pokomy via Newscientist.com
"Oh, man, I know six chimps who could tell you who that is without even prompting them!"
This is apparently important, because the concept of "whole body integration" was thought to be something only humans were capable of (compare this to dogs who will snap at their own tail or -- and we can't repeat this enough -- turkeys who will hump a severed head on a stick). It seems like they could have proven the same point using photographs of hands, but we are not trained scientists.
In 1963, the social psychologist Stanley Milgram published a revolutionary study that helped fill in a small but vital piece of the Nazism puzzle when he showed how ordinary people would agree to do bizarre and unsettling things if they respected the authority of the person who issued the order. But if anybody had been paying attention, they would have known that there was already a study from the 1920s that proved a very similar point. The only difference was that the guy in the white lab coat who was issuing orders wasn't just pretending to be insane. He actually was.
The year was 1924, and the researcher in charge was a post-graduate student named Carney Landis. Being a lunatic, he was only interested in compliance to authority insofar as it involved convincing his test subjects to do disturbing shit so he could record their facial expressions.
"OK, here's your sled. You might want to take off that shirt."
Landis drew grid patterns on his subjects' faces and forced them to do a bunch of things they would find disgusting, like looking at pornography and touching frogs. For the final act, he gave them live white rats. Then he forced them to decapitate the rats while he photographed their faces. And the amazing thing? Two-thirds of his subjects willingly went along with the experiment, despite being clearly freaked out. For those who refused, Landis decapitated the rat for them.
From a facial-expressions point of view, Landis' findings were all but useless. All that Landis ended up discovering was that there's no single expression people will pull when they're disgusted or distressed. He did, however, capture a series of hilarious photographs:
Landis, C. (1924) Journal of Comparative Psychology.
Holy shit, that first guy looks like the end boss from a horror video game.
Wait, is that a kid? Yep, in photos 7 to 9. He was 13 years old and had been referred to Landis' laboratory for treatment after doctors suspected that his heart condition had a psychological component. Landis presumably wanted to see if, using the power of science, he could cause a random 13-year-old to grow up to be a serial killer.
For more ridiculous experiments, check out 5 Psychological Experiments That Prove Humanity is Doomed and 6 Most Badass Self-Inflicted Medical Experiments.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 5 Most Baffling Genres of Romance Novel