Animal Experiments

Animals Experiments have all the same features as a normal Lab Experiment except they use animals participants and this presents a range of practical and ethical issues for us to consider.

Consider the following animals experiments that you have learnt about:

  1. Pavlov’s dogs
  2. Skinner’s experiments on different reinforcement schedules with rats
  3. Any of the experiments mentioned in Carlsson using mice or rats ( a good opportunity to revise this complex paper)

a. Write out the IV, DV and any standardised/controlled variables in these experiments

b. Write a directional experimental hypothesis for each study and a corresponding null hypothesis

Now you are back in the swing of things and have remembered what an experiment actually is, let’s consider why psychologists might use animals experiments in the first place and some of the practical and ethical issues this presents.

My detailed PowerPoint on animals experiments: animal ethics bps

There are several key scientific arguments FOR the use of animal experiments in psychology.

  1. Evolutionary continuity: Non-human animals are similar enough to humans to extrapolate results from one species to another; Green (1994) says the basic physiology of brain and nervous system are similar enough to warrant comparisons
  • internal biochemistry works in same way through release of same basic hormones and similar chemical transmitters
  • animal models are therefore useful in exploring areas in which it would not be possible to use humans (practical and ethical reasons) and can help to reduce human suffering
  1. Greater objectivity and control of confounding variables can be attained by using animals
  • animals do not show demand characteristics and evaluation apprehension in same way as humans; increased internal validity
  • can control for genetic inheritance across a sample through selective breeding
  • can keep animals in controlled environments so all experiences are documented and taken account of
  1. Can use species with short life spans
  • full progress of disease can be seen quickly
  • breeding can occur quickly and inheritance of symptoms monitored

This said, there are scientific arguments against using animal experiments in schizophrenia research:

  1. Subtle differences between non-human animal species are revealed every day
    • extrapolating to humans must be done with caution;
    • researchers are findings differences between the way male and female brains work and with such differences within the same species this emphasises the possible errors that could be made from generalising from one species to another
  1. Just because a part of the brain is used for a certain skills in one species does not necessarily mean it is used for the same function in another;
    • Also human brains are much bigger relative to our body size to any other species and the amount of cortex( the outer layer) is far more developed
  1. Only possible to look at behaviours, not thoughts and feeling, e.g. in schizophrenia research you can only observe behaviours such as lack of goal-directed activity and social withdrawal (negative symptoms may be more detectable?)

With regard to schizophrenia as an example….

  • No language so cannot diagnose in same way
  • difficult to operationalise whether a creature if suffering with ‘hallucinations’ from behaviour alone
  • need to invent ways of assessing possibilities of thought disorder as cannot detect this through disordered language use
  • could assess stereotypical/impaired movements/catalepsy etc
  1. Anthropomorphism: this term means attributing human qualities to animals and means that we might assume that an animal is behaving in a certain way for the same reasons as a human would behave in a certain way,
    • thus we might believe that an animal appears ‘apathetic’ because it is wandering around its cage in a seeming y purposeless manner however it just be getting some exercise
    • we might perceive that an animal is ‘confused’ due to some behavioural sign whereas actually this is not the case
  1. Being in captivity (confined, handled and isolated) will alter their natural behaviour (thus affecting internal validity);
    • it can be stressful for animals and can lead to increased autonomic nervous system activity;
    • this could indice abnormal behaviours, e.g. schizophrenic symptoms (in humans there is evidence that environmental stressors may trigger underlying genetic predispositions)

Examples of animals studies of schizophrenia

Wood et al (1998) bred rats with a genetic mutation associated with schizophrenia in humans and found that they went onto show signs of apathy and social withdrawal, which are symptoms of schizophrenia

Can you create a competing arguments against this finding?

Randrup and Munkvad (1966) Injected rats with amphetamines, which increase dopamine activity, in order to see whether an excess of this neurotransmitter may be in part responsible for schizophrenic symptoms; found that they showed many of the behavioural indicators of schizophrenia including stereotypical movement; the findings have been replicated with pigeons, chickens, cats, dogs and squirrels

Can you create a competing arguments against this finding?

Practice Questions

  1. Arnold is a psychology postgraduate student at the local university who is carrying out research on mice as part of his course. As he will use animals Arnold must consider both practical and ethical issues. Describe practical and ethical considerations that Arnold must take into account when carrying out his research on animals. (6)