Spuren im Labyrinth

Translated title of the contribution: Tracks in the Maze

Juliet MacDonald, Matthias Naumann (Translator)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Spuren im Labyrinth
Translated to German by Matthias Naumann.

Tracks in the Maze
In this article I discuss early experiments in Comparative Psychology that used mazes to test the route learning ability of animals, particularly rats and mice, in the first half of the twentieth century in the United States. The article will begin with a description of the first mazes designed to test the decision-making and "home-finding" ability of rats, conducted by psychologist Willard Small at Clark University in the 1890s. Small's diagram of the "Hampton Court Maze" was reprinted in subsequent textbooks of comparative psychology and became the starting point for a proliferation in maze experiments with increasingly elaborate configurations of corridors and chambers. Movements of the animals inside these devices were sometimes recorded as drawn lines, within the diagram of the maze. I intend to argue that the spatial configuration of the maze allowed limited scope for movement for the animals inside, whereas the overhead perspective of the scientist enabled a privileged view of the whole set up.
I indicate the epistemological implications of this, i.e. how such experiments act as devices of control and containment, by positioning animals as objects of knowledge surveyed from above rather than subjects of experience. The article highlights the changing attitudes in comparative psychology after Small (who was interested in the mental process of the rats he tested), toward the increasingly Behaviorist attitude of subsequent experimenters of the 1930s and 1940s.
I also discuss the way in which spatial arrangements of the maze are depicted in two-dimensional form in diagrams and publications of the period. I particularly note the contrast between the tracks of the animals, and the outlines and geometry of the devices in which they are enclosed.
Translated title of the contributionTracks in the Maze
Original languageGerman
Pages (from-to)28-42
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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