Trained Apes in Artificial Environments. Some Notes on the Media Archaeology of the Behavioral Sciences

CDC Research Colloquium

11. Jun

Daniela Wenz (Ruhr University Bochum)

Taking so-called social robots, designed and used for the diagnosis and therapy of children with mental disabilities and autism, as a starting point, I propose to describe the history of these technologies for once not from the perspective of engineering and computer science, instead focusing on a hitherto completely overlooked history that locates their origins in behavioral research and clinical psychiatry. What most of the robotics studies in this field have in common is that they are based on behavior modification techniques that have been experimented with in behavioral research and therapy since the late 1940s. Yet, paradoxically, the fascination of robotics and technology companies with the theories and insights of behaviorism seems to conceal rather than reveal the crucial role that interaction-based environments and heterogenous media ensembles already played in mid-century behavioral experimentation and therapy in terms of how unwanted behavior may be abolished and desired behavior elicited. The core of the argument is the analysis of several studies of experimental behavioral analysis and applied behavior therapy by means of "artificial environments", whose genealogical relationship to contemporary robot therapies is discussed.

  • 11.06.
  • 12-2pm
  • C40.320

Daniela Wentz is a media scholar and currently a Postdoc at the interdisciplinary research project "Interact! New Forms of Social Communication with Intelligent Systems" at Ruhr University Bochum. She is working on a project on affective computing and artificial emotional intelligence from a media-historical and epistemological perspective.

Recent publications include: Kritik postdigital, Lüneburg: meson, 2023 (ed. together with L. Hille); "Through the Autism Glass. Behaviourist Interfaces and the (Inter)action Order", in: Interface Critique 4, 2023, "Tales from the Loop. Autismus, Technologien und Subjektivierung", in: Feminist Studies (2/2022), issue "Subjectivising the Digital", pp. 260-275; "Nudged to normal. Images, Behaviour and the Autism Surveillance Complex", in: Digital Culture and Society 02/2021, Issue "Networked Images in Surveillance Capitalism", pp. 265-286.


  • Ina Dubberke