Posts tagged ‘Ethics’

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

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.


April 2, 2010 at 4:00 pm 16 comments

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