Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Trustee Scholar Zane Ferguson ’06 (Kempton, Pa.) is presenting the findings of yearlong research on the behavioral responses of pigeons at two national conferences. The project has also opened up a career opportunity when he graduates in May.

Ferguson shared his findings at the 20th annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research held April 6-8. He is among 40 Lafayette students whose research had been accepted for presentation there. He also will present at the 32nd annual convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis in May.

“It’s all very exciting, and I’m happy to be able to not only do my research, but also participate in these conferences,” he says.

The psychology major’s project “Operant and Pavlovian Effects of an Added Counter on Variable-Ratio Performance” tests behavioral response using four pigeons and a digital touch screen. He has been working with Robert Allan, associate professor of psychology, since the fall.

Allan has done extensive laboratory research with pigeons and has published on the topic in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. He is the author of Statistical Reasoning in Psychology and Education and has shared his research through journal articles, book chapters, and more than 50 conference presentations. He has received grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, National Science Foundation, and New Jersey Department of Higher Education. He is a two-time recipient of Lafayette’s Superior Teaching Award.

In the study, when pigeons peck at a dot on a digital touch screen they may receive a consequence (food). Ferguson tests their reactions to receiving or not receiving food.

Allan says that variable ratio testing is best related to gambling in terms of human behavior.

“If a gambler puts a coin in the slot and you pull the lever, you will be able to tell immediately whether you have won or lost,” he explains. “You don’t win if you don’t put the coin in the slot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will win. That is the variable ratio.”

Allan’s prior research in the field inspired Ferguson’s idea for his own project. Allan believes that Ferguson is completing cutting-edge work.

“This is a bit of an uncharted area,” Allan says. “Researching the response, coming to a conclusion, and utilizing that data really hasn’t been done before in a variable-ratio experiment of this kind.”

Ferguson has already secured a position after graduation at City University of New York where he will work on behavior projects similar to his undergraduate experience.

“This project has allowed me to begin a career,” he says. “I’m very proud to be able to carry this out and thank Professor Allan for all of his help.”

Ferguson is a member of men’s a cappella group The Chorduroys, College Choir, Madrigal Singers, and percussion ensemble. He is a past recipient of the Culture/Literature Studies Award and was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa, America’s oldest and most respected undergraduate honors organization, this spring. He is a graduate of OnteoraHigh School.

Selected from among Lafayette’s top applicants, Trustee Scholars like Ferguson have distinguished themselves through exceptional academic achievement in high school. Lafayette awards them with an annual minimum scholarship of $7,500 ($8,000 effective with the Class of 2009) or a grant in the full amount of their demonstrated need if the need is more than $7,500.

Categorized in: Academic News