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Southwestern University Research to Be Featured On ‘Nova’ April 3

The research of a Southwestern University professor will be featured on the national PBS program “NOVA” April 3.

The research of a Southwestern University professor will be featured on the national PBS program “NOVA” April 3.

The program, titled “Kings of Camouflage,” is about cuttlefish, which are a close relative of octopus and squid. These cephalopods have an incredible ability to change their skin color to blend into almost any background. They also have the highest brain-to-body ratio of all invertebrates.

Southwestern University Psychology Professor Jess Purdy has been conducting research with cuttlefish since 1992 and is one of only a handful of researchers in the United States studying cognition in these animals.

Purdy has been conducting both classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning experiments on cuttlefish. For example, he has been able to train cuttlefish to discriminate between a flashing light, which signifies food, and a steady light, which signifies no food.

“It is amazing how fast they can acquire a task,” he says. Purdy and other researchers believe that studying cuttlefish can teach us more about human intellectual capacities and how they evolved.

A film crew from Kaufman Productions in Australia came to Purdy’s lab in July 2005 to gather footage of Purdy’s cuttlefish conditioning experiments for a documentary they were producing. NOVA purchased the documentary to air on public television stations across the United States. The show also has been picked up by National Geographic International, which will broadcast it around the world.

In addition to Purdy, the documentary will feature Southwestern student Shanon Claudio and alumni Neil Minocha and Joshua Neese, who worked in Purdy’s lab while they were at Southwestern.

NOVA has created a Web page for the cuttlefish program that can be found at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/camo/. While the show featuring Purdy and his students will run on most PBS stations April 3, the Austin PBS station (KLRU) will not run it until April 10.

This is not the first time Purdy has received national attention for his cuttlefish research. It also was featured on the Discovery Channel’s “World of Wonder” program in 1996.