Psychology gone bad: when animals pay the price for science.

April 2, 2010 at 4:00 pm 16 comments

Psychology is a fascinating subject which provides a good insight into human behaviour. Comparative Psychology uses animals to help us understand our own behaviour, as sometimes it is considered “too unethical” to conduct an experiment on a human – but not on an animal. This blog explores Psychology at it’s worst, when helpless animals pay the price for science. I’m going to list some of the worst experiments involving animals.

For big animal lovers, you may find this article upsetting. Please do not read on if you think this may do so.

I’d like to point out that post-1980, ethical guidelines were developed for animals. Now, they’re very protective of animals and experiments like the ones mentioned below simply would not occur these days. Thankfully, Psychology is nice again (most of the time anyway…)

Monkey Drug Trials (1969)

Sad monkeys - bad times.

In this experiment (for some reason, no matter how hard I tried, I just could not find the scientist behind this study. For that, I apologise), monkeys were taught how to self inject a number of horrendous drugs into their bodies. Monkeys were injected with the drugs (to include cocaine, morphine, alcohol and amphetamines), so that they became addicted to their effects. They were then taught how to inject the drugs themselves, and left with an abundance of the drug. The monkeys were so effected with the drugs, some broke their arms trying desperately to escape their torment. Some of the monkeys using cocaine even ripped their own fingers off, most likely as a result from hallucinations. Monkeys who were injecting both morphine and cocaine all died within 2 weeks. It makes you think, is a study aiming to explore the effect of drugs really worth the lives of these beautiful animals?

Landis’ Facial Expression Study (1924)

In this experiment, Landis aimed to see whether different emotions create different facial expressions. The experiment was mainly ethical; participants were made to look at pornography, smell ammonia, and feel frogs among other activities. Their facial expressions were caught on camera, so Landis could see if there was a relationship between the emotion and expression. However, it was the final part of the experiment that saw the death of animals – rats namely. Participants were asked to behead a rat, so Landis could see the expression of disgust. Shockingly, two thirds of the participants proceeded to do so. They were not trained in the procedure of beheading (obviously) so the rats were subjected to agony. The participants who refused to behead the rats had the rats beheaded for them by Landis. What makes this worse is that Landis found no significant results; facial expressions aren’t exclusive to emotions. The rats were killed for nothing.

Harlow’s Monkey Experiments (1957 to mid-1960’s)

Harry Harlow holding one of his monkeys.

Harlow is infamous for being insensitive towards animals. His studies caused disturbance to many monkeys. One of his experiments saw tiny baby monkeys, just bonded with their mothers, separated so they had no friends or family for social support. They were put in something Harlow called the “Pit of Despair” for up to an entire year. The pits were tiny and completely pitch black. He was aiming to study the effect of social isolation, but he was later criticised and his study brushed off as “common sense science”. It’s quite obvious that someone, human or not, will develop incorrectly without the social support from their family – particularly the mother. The monkeys left the pits severely disturbed and depressed; Harlow wrote that they showed “autistic self clutching and repetitive rocking”.  Another of his experiments forced baby monkeys to choose between a wire or cloth “mother”. Naturally, they chose the comfier cloth mother, does it really take a genius to work out which one is more appealing? No it doesn’t, and it certainly doesn’t require the abuse of poor monkeys either. Another example of bad animal ethics in Psychology.

For more on Harlow, visit and also

Addiction studies.

As it is deemed unethical to perform drug tests on humans, many animals take the pain so we can learn more about the effects of nasty drugs. Newman & Lehman (1938) investigated the effects of severe alcoholism on dogs. No surprise, they found that the dogs became alcoholic and most of them died soon after when withdrawn from alcohol. Heyser did much research on cocaine using rats. In 1994, Heyser injected adults rats with cocaine, and tested their offspring for signs of deformity or poor motor skills. Fortunately, the rats showed no signs of being negatively effected by their parents addiction to cocaine. Bozarth (1989) also tested the effects of cocaine on rats; he, however, tested the effects of abstinence from the drug. He compared the effects seen in the rats with the effects seen in human – in other words they showed negative symptoms when the drug was abstained. Animals are no strangers to drugs testing, and there are still, to this day, campaigns to reduce the testing of drugs, products and other items on animals. It is not just Psychology that are the criminals here, cosmetic companies, biomedical research and many other science tests are conducted on animals.


Fortunately, the use of animal studies is Psychology is declining. They may still be used, but there is usually no serious harm caused to animals. If it is, the importance of the research has to seriously outweigh the cost of the animal’s life. Even though the studies above were horrible, it is worth noting that most of them were a long time ago – especially the worst ones. We have learnt many important things with unethical animal studies, so sometimes the research is vitally important. One day, it might be a rat’s life which saves millions of human’s lives from cancer. The cost of one rats life to save millions of humans would seem acceptable.

Thanks for reading.

Samuel Eddy.


Entry filed under: Comparative. Tags: , , .

Real Studies: Philip Zimbardo’s (1971) Stanford Prison Experiment. Consumer Psychology: why do we buy things?

16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. shaunak  |  April 11, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Its glamorous to pick few flaws in animal experiment and publish it to gain sympathy of animal lovers and get popular. Have you ever fallen ill and tried any medicine? How dare you try the medicine when it is developed using animals? How dare you buy medicines for your kids when they fall ill? Shame on you buying medicine that are all tried on animals to get market authorisation.
    I’m sick of people like you who keep on gettin publicity in name of animal welfare and does not have any idea about science.

    • 2. Sam Eddy  |  April 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      Hello, thanks for taking the time to read my blog. However, I feel you haven’t read the post properly. At no point do I mention anything to do with medicine, as you will have noticed, this is a Psychology blog. You say know nothing about science, but if you took the time to look, you’d see I have studied science for most of my life. I am 18, and therfore unlikely to have children. Please take the time to read around the material before making vague, inaccurate, grammatically incorrect statements.


  • 3. Christie  |  June 22, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Hi Sam, I came across your blog while searching for animal psychology & just wanted to say I really like this post. I’m in first year psychology and recently came across some of these unethical experiments during tutorial and it was absolutely heartbreaking, especially Harlow’s monkeys, as we had to watch the videos.. I love psychology but I’ve been thinking of transferring to another Uni for animal behavior as I’m very passionate about animals.
    Anyway, I think i’m going to enjoy your blog as the content seems to be quite closely linked to what i’m learning now. keep up the good work! 🙂

    • 4. Sam Eddy  |  June 22, 2010 at 1:06 pm

      Thanks a lot Christie, it’s lovely to see people enjoying what I write. People come and go, but not many comment to tell me what I’m doing right or wrong, so thanks very much! I’m glad we’re on the same sort of level, hopefully we can help each other during our courses.

      Take care, and thanks again!

  • 5. HMynn  |  January 26, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Hi Sam, I googled MOnkey Drug Trials 1969 and it led me here. Good post..and of course this brings up the debate on the ethics involved and whether it is worth it.

    • 6. Sam Eddy  |  January 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm

      I’m really glad your search led you here, and you enjoyed the post!
      Definitely, ethics is something being heavily debated more and more no just within psychology, but outside of the subject as well. Especially with regards to animals.
      Thanks for your comment, take care!

  • 7. Mitchell Lewis  |  November 21, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Why dont we just not do drugs instead of trying to figure out how to do them without getting hurt? I am not happy about this.

    • 8. Sam Eddy  |  November 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      Hi Mitchell.
      I’m not sure the aims were to discover how to use drugs without them getting hurt; it was more to look at how animal behaviour can help explain our own behaviour. So if monkeys can get addicted, how does that apply to us as humans.

      I agree that the cost of life is certainly not worth the benefit of more research – there are many more ethical ways to study our own addictive behaviours.

      I hope the article wasn’t too upsetting for you; the facts are quite horrible! Thankfully, things have changed now and psychologists can no longer abuse animals in this way for science.


      • 9. Mitchell Lewis  |  November 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm

        Okay then.

        We arent monkeys, it is’nt going to show our behaver it only shows monkey’s behaver when we give them drugs besides drugs are illegal, how did this guy even get them?

      • 10. Sam Eddy  |  December 4, 2011 at 12:50 am

        I believe that if you’re using drugs for research, it’s quite easy to get hold of them.
        Whilst it’s true that we aren’t monkeys, we evolved from them and they’re our closest ancestor. As doing these tests on humans is completely forbidden, monkeys are the closest thing we could use.

  • 11. Dee  |  December 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    You know, you really shouldn’t plagiarize. Learn how to do proper in-text citations and provide references instead.

    • 12. Sam Eddy  |  December 4, 2011 at 12:46 am

      Hi there.
      I can assure you that this isn’t plagiarised; all content on this blog is original. I’m a 3rd year student with 6 firsts under my belt out of 8 modules, the remaining two being high 2:1 grades. I’m almost certain I’m capable of citing efficiently, and providing references. I am certain that if you’re interested enough, you’ll be able to find the references yourself with minimal effort.

      Maybe you should learn to be less rude to people you don’t know.


  • 13. Lou  |  December 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Hey just wondering if you knew an ethical animal studies

  • 14. Lou  |  December 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Hey just wondering if you knew any ethical psychology animal studies, i cant seem of think of any

    • 15. LF  |  September 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm

      That’s because are no “ethical” psychology animal studies. This is by the simple fact that informed consent is required and people cannot satisfactorily inform an animal of what will happen in a way the animal will understand. Providing an animal did understand, it’s 99% certain they’d decline. They also cannot communicate their lack of consent in a way that humans seem to understand or pay attention to.

  • 16. LF  |  September 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm


    Do you also believe that the benefit of research outweighs the life of one human if it means many will be saved by that research? I’m just wondering if you’re “equal opportunity” in this. I’m sure that the animals who have died don’t necessarily agree that the research outweighs the value of their survival or health, just as if it were a person who were sacrificed, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would agree with the same.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Welcome to PsychoHawks

Like the new logo? ;)

To subscribe, simply enter a valid e-mail address! You'll be updated as soon as posts are released, and gain access to exclusive subscriber only content!

Join 390 other followers

The Archive

Sam’s Twitter

Make a donation.

By making a donation, you can help the development of the blog. This will keep it free, and help me move it from WordPress to a real domain. Every little helps!

Thanks to all the wonderful readers.

  • 1,756,510 views and counting!

%d bloggers like this: