Monkey Studies: Watch two short video clips: “Harlow Sad Monkey Study” and “Scared Monkey Study” (available on teacher site). Record notes on the studies below:
Background on the use of Animals in Psychological Research:
Since the 1970s, we’ve seen growing controversy over the ethics of using animals in biomedical and behavioral research. Animal rights groups have criticized a variety of human uses of animals, including sport hunting, rodeos, intensive agricultural practices, consumption of animal flesh, and the wearing of furs. The use of animals in behavioral and biomedical research, however, has become the primary focus of public attention in recent years. Experimental psychology has been singled out as particularly offensive by animal rights activists who consider much behavioral research frivolous and cruel. In fact, one scholar said that experimental psychology is “the field most consistently guilty of mindless activity that results in great suffering” (Rollin 1981).
Many in the “animal defense movement” believe that some/most (the movement is divided) animals are sentient, or conscious, which makes them the subject of equal moral consideration. They claim that to elevate the human species above all others on the basis of criteria other than suffering is arbitrary and a form of “speciesism,” a prejudice or attitude of bias toward the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of another species. In short, members of the movement think that speciesism is illogical and morally repugnant, like racism or sexism. With that being said, some find animal research acceptable so long as we would also consider conducting the experiments using human subjects.
The animal rights issue raises questions that are basic to psychological inquiry: What are the essential differences between humans and other animals? Can animals think? What psychological factors influence judgments about what constitutes moral behavior?
Do you sympathize with the animal defense movement? Why or why not?
Summary from the American Psychological Association on the importance of animal research in the field of psychology:
Research with nonhuman animals occupies a central and essential role in psychology and related fields. Both old and new discoveries from animal research continue to play key roles in advancing our understanding of human behavior. Studies in a wide range of nonhuman animals were foundational—and remain critical—to identifying how specific brain areas or neurotransmitters contribute to healthy development and function. Studies of language, communication, cognition, and emotion in great apes fundamentally changed how we think about development, our own abilities, and evolution. They also informed how we should best care for other primates and underscored the importance of conservation. Understanding of genetics, pharmacology, physiology, development, and a full range of other topics depend on a science that includes animal studies. Animal research plays an integral role in scientific study relevant not only to furthering our basic understanding and knowledge, but also to informing clinical practice and public health policy. It is for this reason that psychologists need to become informed about the threats to research conducted with non-human animals.
The use of animals in research is often misunderstood. Much of the public is not familiar with the ethical guidelines and strict federal, state, and local regulations that govern the care and use of animals in research. Almost all scientists/psychologists approach research with compassion and a commitment to responsible, humane, and ethical treatment of animals, and it is often their discoveries that lead to improvements in animal welfare and health.
Research with nonhuman animals occupies a central and essential role in psychology. Historical and current examples are abundant in our textbooks and our literature. Some are well-known enough to be core and common knowledge in our society. For example, Harry Harlow’s famous monkey studies contributed broadly to social, clinical, developmental, comparative, and biological perspectives on attachment and human development. The longevity and impact of these studies is evident across disciplines. The animal model developed by Harlow continues to provide the foundation for new discoveries about how early life experiences influence biobehavioral development and health across the lifespan. These studies provide us with controlled, experimental avenues to answer clinically relevant questions that simply could not be addressed with human studies.
All of this matters deeply to the future of research, psychology, and human health. A choice to turn away from all animal research will have consequences. We would lose essential avenues for discovery. We would fail to realize continued progress in understanding the neural, behavioral, cognitive, developmental, physiological, genetic and biological processes that contribute to human and animal health and disease. Of special relevance to psychology, we would no longer be able to use the best systems to develop and assess new strategies for prevention and treatment of mental health disorders. Assessment of the safety and efficacy of new medications would be compromised. The remaining path available to us, experimentation in humans, is one rejected many years ago in recognition of its failure on ethical grounds. In the absence of research with rodents (95% of all animal research subjects) and other animal models in which new medications and treatments can be developed and evaluated, new treatments will either not be used or will necessarily involve risky experimentation on humans.
Summarize the APA’s perspective on animal testing in psychology:
In this exercise, you will become familiar with the arguments for and against the use of animals in psychological research and simulate participation on an institutional animal care committee, where your group will decide whether a series of hypothetical experiments will be allowed. This activity will sharpen our awareness of a key debate in psychology today and the complexity of making ethical decisions.
Imagine that your pod is on the Animal Care Committee for your university. It is the responsibility of the committee to evaluate and either approve or reject research proposals submitted by faculty members who want to use animals for research or instructional purposes in psychology, biology, or medicine. The proposals describe the experiments, including the goals and potential benefits of the research as well as any discomfort or injury that they may cause the animal subjects. You must either approve the research or deny permission for the experiments by majority rule of the committee (aka your pod). It is not your job to suggest improvements on technical aspects of the projects, such as the experimental design. You should make your decision based on the information given in the proposal. Also, outline why you came to the consensus of either rejecting or accepting.
CASE 1: Professor King is a working on the frontiers of a new and exciting research area—brain grafting. Research has shown that neural tissue can be removed from the brains of monkey fetuses and implanted into the brains of monkeys that have suffered brain damage. The neurons seem to make the proper connections and are sometimes effective in improving performance in brain-damaged animals. These experiments offer important animal models for human degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Dr. King wants to transplant tissue from fetal monkey brains into the entorhinal cortex of adult monkeys; this is the area of the human brain that is involved with Alzheimer’s disease.
The experiment will use 20 adult rhesus monkeys. First, the monkeys will be subjected to ablation surgery in the entorhinal cortex. This procedure will involve anesthetizing the animals, opening their skulls, and making lesions using a surgical instrument. After they recover, the monkeys will be tested on a learning task to make sure their memory is impaired. Three months later, half of the animals will be given transplant surgery. Tissue taken from the cortex of monkey fetuses will be implanted into the area of the brain damage. Control animals will be subjected to sham surgery, and all animals will be allowed to recover for 2 months. They will then learn a task to test the hypothesis that the animals having brain grafts will show better memory than the control group.
Dr. King argues that this research is in the exploratory stages and can only be done using animals. She further states that by the year 2050 about 4 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease and that her research could lead to a treatment for the devastating memory loss that Alzheimer’s victims suffer.
Will you accept or reject this case? Why?
CASE 2: Dr. Fine is seeking to reject some arguments made from psychologists in the behavioral camp. His research concerns the genetic control of complex behaviors. One of the major debates in his field concerns how behavior develops when an animal has no opportunity to learn a response. He hypothesizes that the complex grooming sequence of mice might be a behavior pattern that is built into the brain at birth, even though it is not expressed until weeks later. To investigate whether the motor patterns involved in grooming are acquired or innate, he wants to raise animals with no opportunity to learn the response. Rearing animals in social isolation is insufficient because the mice could teach themselves the response. Certain random movements could accidentally result in the removal of debris. These would then be repeated and could be coordinated into the complex sequence that would appear to be instinctive but would actually be learned. To show that the behaviors are truly innate, he needs to demonstrate that animals raised with no opportunity to perform any grooming-like movements make the proper movements when they are old enough to exhibit the behavior.
Dr. Fine proposes to conduct the experiment on 10 newborn mice. As soon as the animals are born, they will be anesthetized and their front limbs amputated. This procedure will ensure that they will not be reinforced for making random grooming movements that remove debris from their bodies. The mice will then be returned to their mothers. The animals will be observed on a regular schedule using standard observation techniques. Limb movements will be filmed and analyzed. If grooming is a learned behavior, then the mice should not make grooming movements with their stumps as the movements will not remove dirt. If, however, grooming movements are innately organized in the brain, then the animals should eventually show grooming-like movement with the stumps.
In his proposal, Dr. Fine notes that experimental results cannot be directly applied to human behavior. He argues, however, that the experiment will shed light on an important theoretical debate in the field of developmental psycho-biology. He also stresses that the amputations are painless and the animals will be well treated after the operation.