Zing-Yang Kuo and behavior epigenesis based on animal experiments
In 1898, Kuo was born to a merchant family in Tongyu Village, Chaoyang County, Guangdong Province, China. He entered Fudan University in 1916 and left two years later to pursue advanced studies in the United States, where he enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley. After some vacillation, he settled on psychology as his major. In 1918, he met his supervisor, Edward Chace Tolman, a flagman in neo-behaviorism, who began at the University of California the same year. During the years of 1921 and 1922, he worked as an assistant at Berkeley, completed his studies and met the requirements for a Doctor of Philosophy in 1923. However, Kuo did not agree with the amendments put forward by school authorities on his doctoral thesis and instead persisted in his academic viewpoints. He thus gave up the chance to earn his Ph.D. and returned to China before his oral thesis defense (Kuo, 1940). He would not earn a doctoral degree until 1936.
The following year, Kuo held a teaching post at Nanjing Central University, where he founded the Psychology Institution in Academia Sinica while acting as the head of this research institute. From April 1933 to February 1936, he held a position at Zhejiang University, where he imparted knowledge and educated people. He occupied the role of schoolmaster, launched the department of psychology, and was elected to the First Research Council of Academia Sinica in 1935. He also took part in the construction of a psychology association: Kuo and eight other psychologists (Kuo Itzen, AI Joseph Wei, Hsiao Hsiao-Hung etc.) launched the Chinese Psychological Association and held a preliminary meeting in Shanghai during the summer session of 1931.
On December 10, 1935, a student movement erupted in Zhejiang, led by Zhejiang University students, that opposed by Kuo. This conflict caused Kuo’s deposition which announced in 257th regular meeting of Executive Yuan in February, 1936. This further led to a change in his research methods and prospects. From then on, Kuo became a wandering scientist without a nation to call home. From 1936 to 1946, he gave lectures on psychobiology at Berkeley, performed research at the Osborn Zoological Laboratory of Yale University (1937–1938) and the Carnegie Institution of Washington (1938–1939), and went on a lecture circuit of several universities (1941–1943).
In 1946, Kuo became a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Hong Kong. During the next twelve years, he occupied himself with studies of human behavior, including a social psychological analysis of the Chinese national character (Gottlieb, 1972). In 1963, Kuo stayed in America for months to popularize his scientific ideas, including making speeches at the meeting of the International Congress of Psychology and the International Congress of Zoology in August in Washington, DC (Kuo, 1967). That same year, Kuo returned to Hong Kong, where he passed away on August 14, 1970.
Kuo made considerable efforts to carry out a large number of experiments on the animal behavioral response. These experiments sought to observe and determine the rules governing animal ontogeny and development. His series of experiments can be grouped into three categories. The first pertained to the genesis of the cat’s response to the rat. These experiments showed the behavior of kittens toward rats and mice under different environmental conditions: “Our study has shown that kittens can be made to kill a rat, to love it, to hate it, to fear it or to play with it (Kuo, 1930)”. He pointed out that both ontogeny and development play important roles in the formation of the cat’s response to the rat (Kuo, 1938).
In the second vein of research, he studied the factors that determine fighting in animals. Kuo employed a large number of species, such as fighting crickets, Siamese fighting fish, Japanese grey quails, chickens, dogs, numerous species of fish, more than 30 species of birds, cats, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs, recording and classifying all fighting behavior patterns into 23 types. Experiments further revealed that nutritional, hormonal, developmental and environmental factors play an important role in the fighting behavior patterns of the Japanese grey quail (Kuo, 1960a, b, c, d), and he described the phenomenon of inter-species coexistence in fish, birds and mammals (Kuo, 1960e, f, g).
Logan and Johnston (2007) spoke highly of Kuo’s work: “Kuo was the first empirically supported statement of the necessity of transcending the separation between nature and nurture in order to understand behavior”. Kuo’s revolutionary work embodies what today we call a relational developmental systems (RDS) perspective (Overton and Lerner, 2012), and it contributed to the Kuhnian paradigm shift in developmental science (Greenberg, 2014). In a word, Zing-Yang Kuo was a special Chinese psychologist of great significance to the history of psychology and whose research represents a vast treasure of resources that could be developed and used in the future in many different fields.
DH = developmental history, ST = special training (such as fighting, sensory discrimination, etc.), SS = special stimulus (such as light, sound, food, sex, objects, etc.), BCF = biochemical factors, and Pred.Beh. = predictable behavior. Bracket (1) deals with the animal’s past, (2) with its present, and (3) with its physiological mechanisms.
We thank A.P. Guanghui Cui and Professor Shuchang Yan for providing photos for this article. We also thank the son of Zing-Yang Kuo, Alex Kuo, for photo supplies and use. This work was supported by grant “The National Social Science Foundation (16CZX015)”.
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