Kids, Don’t Try This At Home

In a recent New York Times article one scientist emerged from the shadows of contemplation to figure out whether or not childhood bullying has a lasting effect on adulthood.

…for blue footed boobies.

Apparently a blue footed booby who had been visibly bullied by his or her older sibling in infancy showed no signs of introversion in regards to guarding territory, despite years of being fed last and less frequently, being incessantly and brutally pecked, and in general just being shat on by the older siblings of the nest. According to the experiment a cardboard intruder was presented to the booby’s nest and all birds in all cases, regardless of being the youngest or oldest sibling, responded with the same [high levels of] aggression.

There are a couple of things about this article that grind my gears. Perhaps the most salient is its relevance to human life. Some crazed, elitist mother or father whose own child proudly holds the black belt in 8th grade bullying will probably see this and go, “those kids my son/daughter tortures on a regular basis will be alright. See? If the booby can do it, so can they!”

Not.

Bullying is a serious issue. It creates lasting psychological damage that cannot possibly be examined via surprisingly shoddy science experiments. (Some limitations include: 1. There is a difference between a real intruder and a fake one…birds are not that stupid and 2. it would be much more telling if the “intruder” was that particular booby’s sibling not some rando bird off the street and 3. intrusion is only one specific stimulus that may or may not trigger latent psychodynamics as a product of adolescent bullying. What about finding food? A mate? These stimuli, it seems, would be much more revealing-at least in my opinion) More importantly, it has throughout history been accepted as the norm for social life in middle and even high school. Hell, bullying even takes shape in college and beyond. Humans can (and I’m sure many of us besides myself can attest to this) be nasty regardless of their age. Experiments like these, whose subject matter hits incredibly close to home in terms of illuminating a crucial aspect of the human experience, inherently draw correlations between feebly researched animal behavior and completely different, substantially more complicated human behavior. Humans are narcissistic. Scientific information we obtain is frequently and easily applied to ourselves as a species. The fact that these experiments don’t explicitly admit to this makes them all the more dangerous because behavioral amateurs (like an elitist mother or father) are left to make those connections for themselves.

On a lighter note, serious criticism of an article about the “blue footed booby” is virtually impossible.

http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/bullying
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/28/science/28obbirds.html?ref=science