The summer after her freshman year at Ripon College in 2018, Micaela Rivera, of River Falls, was selected to participate in a research experience for undergraduates. While pursuing a major in psychobiology, Rivera worked in Dr. Roger Hanlon’s marine biological laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. under Dr. Alex Schnell. Rivera assisted in a portion of the hands-on research investigating the self control of cuttlefish. Dr. Schnell recently published a nationally recognized paper which outlines their findings - and Rivera’s name is on it.
How did you decide to attend Ripon?
I really enjoyed the natural areas on campus, and the Psychobiology degree fit me perfectly. I wanted to have an emphasis in animal behavior, and there was a professor there, Julia Meyers Manor, who specialized in that area. I've been lucky to have a couple of great professors as mentors.
How would you describe the research and findings?
The research was testing whether or not cuttlefish had self control. We then tested if there was a link between intelligence and self control, as seen in the reverse-learning task where the cuttlefish learned a cue and had to relearn it when the cue was switched. We found that cuttlefish can exhibit self control. Specifically, they can wait for their preferred food item (live shrimp) rather than immediately take thawed shrimp. Cuttlefish that had more self control had better learning performance. This is the first time we see a link between intelligence and self control in non-primates. Though I only did hands on research for the summer the paper has been an ongoing process since the beginning of 2019.
What did you learn while conducting this research?
Research is a lot about problem solving. Things don't always go the way you want them to. So you have to learn how to work and come up with new ideas - especially when working with animals. Cuttlefish shoot out ink like an octopus, and I learned they had pretty good aim. I was inked frequently.
My parents were a great support. My mom works at UW River Falls and my dad works at St. Paul College. They let me talk about my research all the time, even if they don't always get what I'm saying.
What's next for you?
I am planning to take this year to get some experience at a zoo or aquarium. Next year I plan to go to graduate school to get my Ph.D. in animal behavior.