Rather than being ethically questionable, this scientific experiment falls in the category ‘utterly useless’. Sure we agree that curiosity can take on strange forms sometimes, and that researchers should never be afraid to pursuit their scientific goals, but some studies just seem to be a waste of tax money.
This particular study was sparked by the observation that a male turkey is just as likely to mate with a life-size model as a living and breathing female. If a male turkey happily mates with a life-size model, the researchers must have wondered; does that mean he would also hump, let’s say, a turkey head on a stick?
Deconstructing the turkey
The scientists, Martin Schein and Edgar Hale from the University of Pennsylvania, didn’t start out with the head-on-stick straight away though – that would have been ridiculous. So they first removed some less obviously present body parts, such as the legs and wings. But even when the fake female was deprived of all her limbs expect for her head, the males did not seem to lose interest. Therefore, the researchers concluded, “the head alone provided both sexual arousal and orientation cues to the male turkey.” Once this was established, they wanted to know if the fake turkey head had to resemble an actual head in order to arouse the male. Apparently not. “Variations in the characteristics of the head, ranging from detailed carved features to a simple featureless teardrop shape, did not adversely affect sexual responses of the male turkeys.”
A few years later, Schein and Hale repeated the experiment with White Leghorn cocks. But the cock, as it turned out, isn’t as easily fooled, nor does it particularly care for the head. “With respect to complete patterns,” the researchers conclude, “the head was the primary releaser in the turkey, while the body was the primary releaser in the cock.” We are looking forward to the first human adaptation of this experiment.
Carbaugh, B., Schein, M., & Hale, E. (1962). Effects of morphological variations of chicken models on sexual responses of cocks Animal Behaviour, 10 (3-4), 235-238 DOI: 10.1016/0003-3472(62)90046-5
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