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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2019


Eye on Psi Chi

Spring 2019 | Volume 23 | Issue 3

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Science at the Zoo DePaul Psi Chi Team Shadows Lincoln Park Zoo Scientist

Jake Broschart, Kirsti Zimmerman, and Theresa Luhrs, PhD,
DePaul University (IL)

https://doi.org/10.24839/2164-9812.Eye23.3.42

View this issue in Digital and PDF formats.

Two DePaul University psychologists, Dr. Sheila Krogh-Jespersen and Dr. Kimberly Quinn, posted a number of compelling pictures on social media of their eye-tracking studies at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. This inspired us to host a fun and informative Psi Chi chapter field trip to the zoo.

In spring quarter 2018, the eye-tracking scientists put us in touch with Dr. Lydia Hopper, a comparative psychologist and zoo scientist specializing in primates. Dr. Hopper was happy to work with us and let us know that she could accommodate a small group in order for us to shadow her and go “behind the scenes.” Excited by this opportunity and potential connection for future trips, we agreed to a small group of Psi Chi officers and one advisor. We decided to consider this a vetting trip, during which we would find opportunities to take to the larger group in the future. We were also able to secure university funding to treat our group to lunch while at the zoo since we planned to make a day of it.

Research at the Zoo

We met Dr. Hopper at the Regenstein Center for African Apes at Lincoln Park Zoo and were quickly directed to a private staff entrance that led to a conference room. Here, Dr. Hopper spoke with us on a variety of Lincoln Park Zoo initiatives including the exciting primate social cognition research that is being conducted. Most members of our group were zoo science novices, and we had many questions about research and conservation efforts.

Dr. Hopper shared a PowerPoint presentation that illuminated important and timely research studies being conducted that included, but was not limited to her work with primates. These included the international effort to understand species population trends and the ways in which global zoos work together to breed genetically compatible animals so that these species can be replenished and sustained. We were surprised by the complex research and communication among zoos that is necessary for the breeding of one pair of animals, and that many females of many species are on some form of birth control.

Dr. Hopper also discussed the zoo’s conservation efforts in the Republic of Congo and social cognitive research with apes, chimpanzees, and macaques living at Lincoln Park Zoo. She shared a video depicting an experiment that involved placing sections of PVC pipes in the primates’ enclosure. If any primates returned the PVC pipe to the experimenter, they were given a reward of either carrots or grapes. But, there were three catches to this experiment. First, the more PVC pipes the primates brought to the experimenter, the more rewards they were given. Second, there were multiple reward stations where the primates could drop off the PVC pipes in exchange for a food reward, and the stations had different food rewards. Third, the location of the rewards changed from time to time, and there were certain foods that the primates preferred over others, so that played a factor into what reward station they visited. It was found that socially higher ranking primates went for the more desirable rewards of grapes, while middle/lower ranking primates were content with the less desirable rewards of carrots.

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Dr. Lydia Hopper
Zoo Scientist
I am a comparative psychologist who studies social cognition in primates. I am based at Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, where my work focuses on our chimpanzees and gorillas. I am particularly interested in social cognition. Specifically, my research focuses on social learning (mechanisms and strategies) and responses to inequity. I am also fascinated by how animal personality relates to decision making and behavior. https://sites.google.com/site/lydiahopper/

Our Guided Tour (and Internships!)

After this introductory lecture and presentation, we were treated to a guided tour of the Regenstein Center for African Apes from a behind-the-scenes researcher’s perspective. We observed zoo scientists and interns documenting the social and cognitive behaviors of the primates in residence.

We wondered what types of research activities that zoo interns engaged in, and this tour illuminated one important aspect of their role. Zoo interns use iPads to document and code specifically assigned animal behavior using software developed at Lincoln Park Zoo, called ZooMonitor. Coveted internships for university students throughout the Chicago area, each intern appeared to be well-trained, dedicated, and focused. Here is information from the Lincoln Park Zoo internship site: https://www.lpzoo.org/lester-e-fisher-center-study-and-conservation-apes/fisher-center-research-internships. Other zoos are sure to have similar programs.

Touch Screens . . . for Monkeys?

After touring the Regenstein Center for African Apes, Dr. Hopper led us to Regenstein Macaque Forest. There, we stayed for an extended demonstration of real-time ongoing research with Japanese macaques using touch-screen technology.

In cozy cubicles, Japanese macaques can choose to use touch-screen computers to solve different types of puzzles for a short time each day in order to receive food rewards. They have learned clear signals that indicate that a session is available to them, and also when the session has ended, and no more treats will be forthcoming on that day. By observing how the macaques approach these challenging puzzles, how they learn, and the types of mistakes they make in early trials, zoo scientists can study how macaques and other primates perceive and negotiate their social and physical worlds. More specifically, via this touch-screen technology, zoo scientists can learn about primates’ preferences for a variety of items that are important in their physical world, and this helps ensure an ongoing high level of animal care. Zoo scientists are also collecting data on how the macaques respond differentially to different images across time, and this allows insight into their moods and well-being.

What We Learned

We spent quite a bit of time marveling about macaque cognition with touchscreen technology, but more than anything, we were amazed at the science being conducted all over the zoo and its importance for animal care and conservation worldwide. Our experience also opened our eyes to possibilities for internships and jobs for psychology students interested in zoo science.

It is always important to the officers of DePaul Psi Chi that we showcase the range of career/research possibilities in the field of psychology. Some students might assume psychologists are limited to studying human behavior when there are other forms of social behavior and cognition to study. We are fortunate to have faculty on staff who have great relationships outside of the university and who are willing to include Psi Chi in their research adventures.

Tips to Plan Your Own Chapter Zoo Trip

We had a wonderful time on this science field trip, and will plan another trip in the spring quarter. Using our new knowledge about the locations and times of ongoing research projects, we will conduct our own self-guided tour so that we can accommodate a much larger group. We will have planned stops for scientist-guided public demonstrations of zoo research. Here are some suggestions for other chapters with access to a nearby zoo or animal sanctuary:

If you don’t have a collegial contact on-site, the zoo website is likely to have a research and education department that already hosts elementary and high school groups. They may be willing to tailor a smaller group experience for Psi Chi university students as an opportunity to showcase their research and advertise internships and jobs to potential applicants.

If you are unable to secure a guided tour, the same website might detail or have links to important research being done on-site. A pre-event scouting trip by a few officers may result in finding out optimal times to observe data collection and zoo scientists in action.

If you are there for the better part of the day, you might want to think about how to feed the hungry group. We were able to secure $200 from the student activity board to use for food and drink. We explained that we were engaged in a science-related activity that would include a zoo scientist as host and guest speaker, and that this opportunity could result in ideas for jobs and internships for our Psi Chi students. If not, hand-made lunches in backpacks can still be enjoyed in various picnic areas.


Jake Broschart (president) is a senior at DePaul University double majoring in theatre studies and psychology with a concentration in human services. He is researching perceptions of intimate partner violence among same sex couples at DePaul, and is a research assistant at Northwestern’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health. After graduation, he plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology.

Kirsti Zimmerman (secretary) is a senior at DePaul University, majoring in community psychology. After graduation, she hopes to pursue her passion for animals by obtaining her wildlife rehabilitation license and working at a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Kirsti is also working on a specialization in American sign language and hopes to become an interpreter.

Theresa Luhrs, PhD (coadvisor) is the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Psychology at DePaul University. She teaches Introductory Psychology, Research Methods, and Theories of Intimate Relationships. Her research interests include intimate partner violence and perceptions of social capital in combat veterans.

Copyright 2019 (Vol. 23, Iss. 3) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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