MacDonald, Juliet (2013) The Art of the Diagram: modes of depicting apparatus used in Comparative Psychology experiments. In: Technoscientific developments and Critical Animal Studies, 3rd EU conference for Critical Animal Studies, 28-30 November 2013, Karlsruher Institut für Technologie, Germany.

In the first half of the twentieth century a variety of devices were designed by psychologists to investigate the learning processes, discrimination and behavioral responses of nonhuman animals. From puzzle boxes and mazes to multiple-choice apparatus, scientists demonstrated ingenuity in the creation of elaborate devices to test the wits and stamina of other species of life. Stress generated by either fear or hunger was frequently designed into the experimental set up in order to present a limited choice of action to the animals who were tested.

This paper focuses on the manner in which such devices were depicted in the scientific literature using diagrams, drawings and plans. I will take a critical approach to the discipline of Comparative Psychology, viewing it from an external perspective (that of an artist-researcher). I seek to investigate how these diagrams both recorded and 15produced the miniature environments that were created by experimenters, how they acted to enclose animals and structure the knowledge produced.

Analysis of the diagrams will address the conventions of depiction used, the geometry of the designs, the perspective from which the apparatus are shown (presenting the view of the experimenter as both spectator and overseer), the modes of visuality and theatricality in operation, and the way in which configurations were reiterated in different experiments. Using a number of visual examples, I will argue that diagrams are powerful in enabling the reproduction of architectural forms that function to contain animal subjects.

The proliferation of such diagrams in the early twentieth century can be viewed in the context of an increasing drive to utilize nonhuman animals for experimental purposes. The apparatus of psychological experiment has now become more standardized. Such devices as the ‘passive avoidance box’ and ‘open field arena’ can be purchased from commercial suppliers, eliminating the need for detailed visual descriptions in the scientific literature. The legacy of this technoscientific innovation is the continuing usage of a variety of disorientating mazes and chambers designed in the interests of furthering psychological, neurological and pharmaceutical knowledge.

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