Some Psychological Experiments Based on Animals

Psychology is a field of study that psychologists utilise to better understand human behaviour and how the mind functions. The study mostly works on observation and research and about 7-8% of psychological research involves the use of animals. 90% of the animals employed in psychological study have been rats or birds. While researchers have utilised a range of animal species. Only about 5% animals used are monkeys and primates. Using a large animal is rare in Psychological research.

A few of the most famous experiments are:
  • Hans the Horse: In the early 1900s, there was a horse nicknames Clever Hans. His trainer was Wilhelm Von Ofsten. The horse was capable of astonishing feats like simple arithmetic calculations, could tell time and communicate using hoof taps. Oscar Pfungst, a psychologist deducted through observation that Hans was reading tell tale clues from the questioner. Exactly like how our pet dog after a few years together, started anticipating our needs. The fact that Hans has received instruction in interpreting clues does not diminish his capacity to act intelligently like a person. Unfortunately, Hans, a horse with such intellect, was conscripted by Germany for their war effort and was killed in battle. Though horrible death or not Hans gave us the observation that in life. While growing we start by observing and following social cues and reacting to them. Someone must comprehend social signs and respond appropriately in order for us to see them as intelligent beings.
  • Pavlov’s Dogs: Though not a psychologist, Pavlov, a physiologist is worth mentioning. Accidental or not, Pavlov found out about the instinct present in any sentient being. Folks, PETA was not a group back then but those dogs needed a monitoring or should say Pavlov needed monitoring on how he experimented on dogs. They didn’t act cruelly on purpose, but they did leash the dogs. So that they do not move and disturb the small pipe. In order to collect and quantify the dogs’ saliva, they surgically placed devices into their cheeks. We can draw the conclusion that it gave us information on classical conditioning. But those dogs deserve our praise that they helped in such experiment. We don’t like when someone restrains us. How do you think the dogs, who are such energetic creatures must have felt. Despite some surgical experiments we learned about classical conditioning and how a person’s brain learns and reacts.
  • Tolman’s Rats: Have you ever thought how your brain stores the way to your home so that you can instinctively without any conscious thought walk back to your home when you find familiar ground no matter how tired you are? Tolman built a maze and used rats to analyze latent learning. This actually took the term lab rat quite seriously. No matter how much we learned, think of the life of the rats that were denied proper food. Although it is true that rats may not have access to food in the wild. It is remarkable to realise that they are excellent scavengers and never go to bed hungry.
  • Skinner’s Mice: We have all heard of reinforcement both negative and positive. But have you ever thought how the psychologist knew it will help effectively in learning. B.F. Skinner researched a lot on behavior. He created a box to house a mouse. There was a lever in the box. If there was no sound, the box would shock the user when they pressed it. Instead of delivering a meal pellet as intended. The rat mastered the art of knowing when to press the box to avoid being shocked. The rat learns to associate the sound with reward or punishment.
Animal use in psychological research

These were some of the important experiments. But there are a numerous number of such experiments are present in the field of psychology. Some of the experiments involved electric shocks, drug injections, food depravation, maternal separation and manipulating brain functions to determine the effects on sensory and cognitive abilities as well as behavior (Kimmel, 2007). There has been an effort to put an end to these unethical and cruel experiments. Yet, it cannot be denied that if animals had not been used as test subjects, similar atrocities could have been inflicted on people. Which would have been far more immoral than they already were.

Testing on animals includes investigating the quirks to make sure they wouldn’t be harmful to people. Because humans and the most experimentalized animals have a same ancestry and have similar anatomical and functional systems, animal experimentation is necessary. It makes it feasible to do a number of things with animals that would be very impossible with people. Animals may not be able to learn some things that humans do from birth. Thus it is possible to say that when they exhibit particular actions, they are growing.

Not all experiments were so cruel and unethical though.

  • Washoe the Chimp: Allen and Beatrix Gardner, a married psychiatric couple, took in Washoe, the first chimpanzee to learn sign language. The chimp learned to use over 250 different signs. This chimp had her obituary come out in the New York Times. To show that culture and environment have a significant impact on how humans learn. They treated this chimpanzee similarly to humans while observing.
  • Chaser the Border collie: It was not just the apes but also dogs; Chaser was trained by psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley. Acc. to Pilley, play was a better learning tool then a hunger for food. The study found that animals are not just thoughtless organisms they also have the ability for independent thought and forming emotional bonds. Though because of the emotional bond between Pilley and his dog seems to be considered a potential for blurring his objectivity.
  • Thorndike’s Cat: The principle of operant conditioning in behaviourism was derived from research using cats. Thorndike made a puzzle box and put a cat in the box and encouraged it to escape the box with the motivation of finding food. After repeated trips in the box the cat found a lever which opened the escape door. Repeated trials helped the cat learn that the lever is the key then instead of finding escape to cat found the lever. The law of effect, which was created by the APA, states that activities that produce good effects are more likely to be repeated than those that produce negative ones. In contrast to other studies, this one shows that cats will not behave in any way when mistreated, even when food is present as a reward.
  • Koko the Gorilla: Francine Patterson, a psychologist, taught Koko sign language. Koko had a vocabulary at the same level of a 3 year old human. In contrast to other apes, Koko grew up hearing English spoken around him. The ape developed human like tendencies and also kept a pet cat and also named it. Koko also had an IQ between 70 and 90. It taught us about emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities which continues to shape the world. This data demonstrates how apes may develop into humans via hard labour and numerous offspring of educated and intellectual gorillas.

Researchers who undertake such studies are aware that the studies may involve certain harms minor or major. The community tries to mitigate some of the harms. APA has rules and frequent inspections to check that these animals are not being caused any unnecessary harm and are well cared for. Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees must provide their approval before any study can start, even the most basic procedures like testing an animal’s cognitive ability. Part of the approval process even requires that the scientist must provide proof that there is no less invasive way to so the task required.

In order to employ the fewest amount of animals feasible, researchers must also provide justification for their usage. Animals, be it cats, dogs, apes or mice all of these pets have helped a lot in the contribution of psychological theories that we apply to this day to humans. Researchers have erected a monument in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia, honouring the Laboratory Mouse, which stands in for all study animals. While it explicitly honours the mice employed there, it also serves as a representation of all creatures that have aided in growth and development across a variety of areas.

In place of the many human lives that would have been lost, these creatures gave freely of their life. The memorial serves as a reminder that sometimes progress necessitates such a sacrifice. People’s mental health may have deteriorated to the point where it would have been difficult for them to continue living, and many would have succumbed to the tranquilly and peace that death brings if researchers had not explored a wide range of theories and concepts. This is something we frequently overlook when we think of psychology as simply a study that deals with behaviour and patterns.

All these animals and many more have helped in the development of new theories and observations. Although one might argue for either side, whether it be the unethical or the emotional bonding studies, in the end, it comes down to the reality that psychologists have based the majority of their psychological experiments on observation, and occasionally, they must make sacrifices for the greater good.

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