They trained chickens to play baseball, and then some

Psychologist B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning work inspired the work of Marian Breland Bailey. Bailey’s work inspired this study:

Marian Breland Bailey: The Mouse Who Reinforced,”  John N. Marr, Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Vol. 61, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 59-79. Marr writes:

Marian and her first husband, Keller Breland, had become the most experienced and accomplished mammal, fish, reptile, and bird trainers in the world, and they did most of their work in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They were the first scientists to see that the methods used in that original pigeon project of World War II could be employed to train animals to do almost anything within the creature’s repertoire to work for and to entertain humans…

Other rooms contained chickens walking the “circus high wire” or pecking a button that caused a miniature baseball bat to hit a ball into the left field fence as the chicken ran the bases for a home run. Ducks played drums or pecked at the keys of a piano. Squirrels raised a flag up a pole to the sound of a bugle. Rabbits rode on the back of a miniature fire truck when the fire alarm rang or kissed a bunny doll until it “lit up.” Raccoons had to stuff a ball through a basket before a food light would blink. The baseball-playing chicken exhibit was also displayed in the window of a large department store in New York. The chicken’s performance was not in the least affected by the cheering of a large crowd on the sidewalk when she “hit” a home run; she would even trot back to home plate to try again when the ball was “caught” or hit foul (signified by the failure of a small light at first base to light up).

 (Thanks to investigator Mason Porter for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS (not necessarily not related): Chicken, Chicken, Chicken