The first Director of what is now the Yale Child Study Center, from 1911 to 1948.
The first Director of what would become the Child Study Center was Arnold Gesell, Ph.D., M.D. ’15 (1880-1961). Dr. Gesell, a psychologist and subsequently a pediatrician, was one of the first to apply the rigorous criteria of scientific research to the issues of growth and development in children, and is often considered the father of the field of child development in the United States. In 1911 he instituted a clinical service that became the Yale Clinic of Child Development. A meticulous observer and researcher, Dr. Gesell is best known for his studies of normal child development and his use of new approaches in this endeavor. Dr. Gesell was Director from 1911 to 1948.
Gesell, A. (1939). What did the bluejay do with the nut? Science, 89, 2298, p.35.
Gesell, A. (1939). What did the blue jay do with the nut? Science, 89, 2298, p.35.
It turns out that rather than being a ridiculous submission, this is a commentary about object permanence – the idea that you can know something is there even when you can’t see it. The concept of object permanence was one Gesell both observed and studied with babies.
At about 2 months old, infants will start being surprised when an object is removed when they are not looking; this suggests the beginning of a sense of object permanence. By about 6 months old, a baby will visually look for an object that has fallen out of sight. And by about 8-12 months, infants will actively search for objects that have been hidden by an adult. What Gesell was noticing with the blue jay was that it, too, was actively (and successfully) searching for an object that had been hidden from its sight (by the squirrel). We’re going out on a limb here (no blue jay pun intended), but Gesell may have wondered whether the blue jay had a sense of object permanence that was at least as good as an 8-12 month old human baby.
What did the Blue Jay Do With The Nut?
This afternoon (November 21) I observed the following quick sequence of events, which occurred on my front lawn:
1:45. A grey squirrel, answering my tapping signal, ran up a rustic incline which leads to a window box, to secure a nut (paper shell pecan) which I offered him through an open window.
1:46. This squirrel scampered back to the lawn to a point about 15 feet away. He buried the nut and raked a brittle oak leaf over it.
1:47. The squirrel returned to the window box for a second nut. Immediately a blue jay flew down to the precise spot where the first nut had been buried, pecked vigorously through the oak leaf into the soil, and in about 30 seconds seized the nut in his bill and disappeared with swift and sudden flight into a towering elm nearby. What did he do with the nut?
I do not wish to worsen the reputation of the blue jay, but the incidence seems worth reporting.