Project Pigeon – Applying Behaviorism For Guided Bombs

I never knew the concept of Behaviorism could have far-reaching applications. The training industry uses behaviorism as a key instructional design model. B.F Skinner’s Operant Conditioning is widely used in creating learning content that reinforces desired behavior through positive and negative feedback (consequences). What really struck me was the rather bizarre applications of such theories.

B.F Skinner was a psychologist, author and inventor. He was called up on by the US Government to come up with a guided bomb during World War II and he did invent one that involved pigeons (it obviously did not end well for the pigeons!). Here is how it worked. Pigeons were placed into a pigeon-hole in front of the bomb. The pigeons were looking at a screen that projected the image of anything that was directly facing the bomb. These pigeon guided bombs were dropped from aircraft on passing enemy ships. The image of the ship gets projected on the screen and the pigeons (trained by operant conditioning) pecked on the image of the ship on the screen. If the image is not on the center of the screen (which means the bomb is not on target), the pigeons pecked on the image to redirect the bomb through sensors embedded on the screen. The pigeons continued to peck on the image till the fiery end.

Luckily for thousands of pigeons, the cruel fate never materialized as no one from the US Airforce and Navy took this invention seriously!

Srinivas Krishnaswamy

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I love to read and share thoughts on technology, enterprise learning, mobile and any thing cool that impacts enterprises.

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Posted in eLearning, Teaching

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