Reference no: EM131199341
The Zoo Story
In the past, trainers had controlled the elephants’ behavior by establishing a dominance over the animals that could, when it was deemed necessary, include physical discipline. This approach was adapted from life in the wild. Elephant herds are led by a dominant cow, usually the oldest member of the herd, which operates as the matriarch. Deviants are dealt with quickly and severely by this single boss, so most members of the herd do what the matriarch demands. Elephant trainers adopted this form of control hundreds of years ago and have used it since with little change.
Since elephants are 50 times larger than the average trainer, this method requires individuals who exhibit a great deal of self-assurance. Showing fear to the animal might be tantamount to being disobeyed. In the extreme, the elephant could even turn on the trainer. The trainers’ personality profiles, therefore, make them unlikely candidates for change. If you willingly spend your working days intimidating huge animals with the latent knowledge that you might be trampled to death, you probably do not show a great deal of self-doubt about your methods or a willingness to change them.
The animal behavioral approach is based on positive reinforcement, which gives an elephant a reward for cooperation. This reward is often an apple, a carrot, or verbal praise. If the elephant refuses to participate in the training, the only punishment is a loss of the reward. During the first year, the elephants caught on quickly, and only seven losses of rewards occurred during more than 1,500 training sessions. The elephants participated in the daily shows, exhibited no aggression toward the trainers, and no physical discipline was needed or administered. The zoo management then asked the remaining traditionalists to adopt the new training methods of the behavioral trainers. Since this new procedure contradicted more than 400 years of traditional elephant training practices and questioned the dominance premise on which these trainers had always operated, the traditionalists spent most of their time trying to circumvent the new approach and to disprove its efficacy.
How would you facilitate a change in attitude and behavior among this group?
The Outcome: Making It Work
Within a short period of time, the zoo’s executive director assembled all the behaviorists, trainers, curators, keepers, and any other involved individuals and dictated that the behavioral positive reinforcement approach would be the only one used at the zoo. For the next year, the group tried every type of positive reinforcement technique to get the remaining traditionalist trainers to change. Ironically, the elephants had caught on very quickly and looked forward to the goodies being provided as a reward for doing what was expected, but the traditionalists’ attitudes were uniformly hostile, and most interactions among the groups of trainers and with the management were confrontational.
Finally, as one means of changing behavior, a quarterly performance review was instituted that involved the trainers and focused on specific activities needed to implement positive reinforcement training for the elephants. While these quarterly reviews were, at first, rarely positive experiences, by the third round the trainers were starting to do the right things. By the fourth reviews, the discussions were switching from arguments to positive goal setting. The group as a whole, traditionalists and behaviorists, began working well together.
Questions to reflect and answer:
1. How does the systems theory approach work in the Zoo Story?
2. Among the concepts of open systems and complex systems we discussed in class, which (one or more) do you think would fit the Zoo Story and why?