Clever Hans: The Horse That Outsmarted Everyone
We know that a lot of our communication happens not just through words, but through facial expressions, tone, and body language too. This can cause a researcher to unintentionally influence the person or animal they are examining. There are ways of getting around this-double blind studies are one way-where neither the researcher nor the subject knows if they are in a control or experimental group. But where did our understanding of subtle cues come from? Well, they came from a particularly clever horse. Clever Hans, a horse who took the media by storm in the early 1900s. Clever Hans was wowing the world with his ability to calculate numbers, identify musical tones, and ace any test thrown his way. His trainer, retired school teacher Wilhelm Van Osten, taught this horse as he would have a human child in front of a chalkboard and a counting machine in his backyard for years. Van Osten and the world truly believed Clever Hans was capable of extraordinary things. And he was…it just wasn’t what they had all suspected. Little did they know, they were all being outsmarted by one clever horse.
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