The method of studying the behavior of animals used by many
investigators is, paradoxically, not to study animal behavior.
What they seem to be interested in are the distortions, the pathology
of behavior: either the fragments which remain after surgical
or other mutilations have destroyed the marvelous wholeness of
a functioning organism, or the reflex jerks teased out by any
of the myriad of prods, punishments, or pleasures which the ingenuity
of a researcher can devise. The wholeness which the ethologist
prizes in the wild is useless to the investigator in the laboratory.
Perhaps his mind is affronted by the freedom of the wild animal,
by the strength the latter draws from the earth beneath its feet
and in the labyrinth of its natural habitat. He is uncomfortable
until the animal is subdued, and transformed.
The instruments of transformation are the drug, the knife and the electrode. Add to these the cage, with its accessories: the shuttle box, response levers, pellet dispensers and stimulus panel; and the restraint system: stereotaxic head holder, primate chair, et cetera. Thus equipped, the behaviorist is ready to proceed with his experiment. If he deploys much technology and uses it ingeniously enough his colleagues may described his work as "elegant," the scientist's adjectival accolade.
The experiments described in this chapter are of three kinds. The first group are studies of aggression provoked in the animal by fear or pain - reactions usually produced by electric shocks. The aggression is allowed an outlet, either through attacking another animal, or biting whatever comes to hand.
The second group are deprivation experiments, which physically and often surgically deprive the animal of one of its senses, or separate it from some part of the environment necessary for its survival.
The third group are stress experiments, in which the animal is again exposed to fear and pain, but is frustrated in its attempts to escape, resulting in psychological, and sometimes physical, disintegration.
It will be apparent in the studies of animal aggression which are reviewed below that the behavior described is generally elicited by human manipulation provoking pain, fear or rage.
There is a large literature describing experiments promoting
mouse killing by rats ("muricide"), or frog killing
("ranacide"), or mice fighting mice, or rats fighting
rats, as a means of studying aggression.
This behavior has been explored in numerous ways. Electric shocks are delivered to the feet of the animals or directly into the brain through implanted electrodes, aggression-stimulating drugs are injected, parts of the brain, such as the olfactory bulb, are surgically removed, and rodents from the outside are introduced into a resident colony. After a certain time, the dead animals are counted and the distribution of wounds is noted. Finally, the animals who have been forced to become aggressors are killed so that the changes if any in their brains can be evaluated.
These fights between animals (which frequently show no natural antagonism) are stimulated by a group of investigators who, if they were promoting fights between larger animals, such as cocks and dogs, would be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act. But Congress has specifically denied these small animals the protection of the law. As a result, ingenious variations of these laboratory massacres, and portentous sounding papers (e.g. "Role of the mystacial vibrissae in the control of isolation induced aggression in the mouse.") (Katz,R.,1976) earn the researchers masters' degrees, doctorates, and never-failing largesse from the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Mental Health and other tax-supported agencies. Katz's work on "mystacial vibrissae" (or as the uninformed would call them, mouse whiskers), was, for example, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health through the Mental Health Research Institute, University of Michigan.
Since this and similar experiments are often partly supported by public funds, members of the public, if they knew what was going on, might well inquire just how such work "will undoubtedly contribute to the benefit of Man or animals" - to use the criterion which the Canadian Council on Animal Care applies to prey-killing and fighting experiments (singled out as ethically problematical because of the suffering involved).
Experimenters who have built their careers on promoting fights between rats and rats, rats and mice, rats and frogs, cats and mice, etc. may feel aggrieved to have their efforts criticized, yet without compunction they expose sensitive, unanesthetized animals to degrees of suffering which are comparable to those of a medieval torture chamber. The following examples are chosen from many which the reader may peruse in the original; some are abstracted in Jeff Diner's Physical and Mental Suffering of Experimental Animals, a review of the pertinent scientific literature. (Diner, J.,1979).
In 1977, psychologists from Rutgers University, New Jersey,
and Ithaca College, New York, reported an experiment in which
stranger male rats were placed singly in a cage containing an
established colony of male and female rats, some of the latter
with sucklings. The intruders were attacked by the residents and
each received "an average of 50.9 small (less than 1/2cm.),
12.6 medium (0.5 to 1 cm.), and 4.6 large (more than 1 cm.) body
wounds." After 21 hours of this torment, the mangled intruders
were killed and their stomachs and small intestines were examined.
The findings were significant, because, for those inclined to
discount a rat's sensitivity to pain, the autopsy report of "ulcers
and mucosal degeneration of the small intestine; ... erythema,
[inflammation], gastritis and prominent rugae [folds] in the stomach"
is objective evidence of the extreme stress and suffering undergone
by the victims. This is emphasized by the development of so much
pathology after less than a day's exposure to punishment. (Lore,
The investigators, probably becoming aware of the cold draught of criticism of these endless studies of aggression in laboratory rats - the journals have been full of them for forty years - express the hope that their "discovery of a positive relationship between attack stress and gastrointestinal functioning will stimulate the use of animal models with ecological validity for the study of stress and its physiologic concomitants." As Diner drily comments, "It is rather difficult to imagine an animal in a natural setting subjecting itself to 21 hours of continuous stress." (Diner, J.,1979,p.163). However, the Blanchards, a husband and wife team at the University of Hawaii, who have been generating much research and many papers in recent years on electric shock-stimulated rat fighting, have reassuring words for colleagues who might be alarmed at the thought of abandoning their long-suffering domesticated animal models for anything more natural:
"One very pleasing aspect of the specific agonistic behaviors indicated by these studies of laboratory rats is their similarity to descriptions of wild rat agonistic behavior.... This finding therefore provides considerable justification for the continued use of the laboratory rat as a research animal in the study of attack and defense .... Calls continue to be made for the abandonment of domesticated rats in favor of more 'natural' subjects, a tactic which the present findings suggest may be unnecessary." (Blanchard, R.,1977).
Pleas not only to study "wild" animals, but to observe
them in their natural setting, have been heard for a long time
and now are reaching an increasingly sympathetic and concerned
public. Twenty years ago Russell and Burch cited many experiments
in the literature of ethology in which fear, occurring in the
normal life of animals (e.g. a pigeon's
fear of aggression when it finds itself in another's territory),
might be studied humanely. (Russell,W.,1959, p.145-153).
In recent years, the work of ethologists like Jane Goodall and George Schaller, based on observations in the wild, has been very informative, and includes much material on prey-killing and intra- and inter-species fighting. Goodall's book Innocent Killers (written in collaboration with her former photographer- husband, Hugo van Lawick) is a masterly study of wild dogs, jackals and hyenas. (van Lawick,H.,1970,p.209). After two years' observation in Ngorongoro and Serengeti, Tanzania, the animals the authors followed so patiently had all acquired recognizable personalities and, indeed, names. Compare the description of the subjects of a laboratory rat experiment: "six male albino Sprague-Dawley rats, 150 days old and purchased from Holtzman Co." with a retrospective paragraph about the jackals studied in Innocent Killers:
"The memories of that period are, for us, many and vivid: the boisterous tumbling play of Rufus and Nugget and their sister Amba; the way in which Cinda, the runt, so frequently curled up by herself; Cinda in the talons of the eagle, and her shrill screaming as she hurtled to the ground; Jewel, their mother, pouncing on cub after cub, bowling it over, and then grooming it until finally it escaped to join the games of its siblings; Jason darting in and out of lion and hyena kills for titbits; Jason battling with a snake; Jason, alone, challenging and driving off a huge lappet-faced vulture from the food of one of his cubs." (Ibid., p.209).
The Tanzanian lions in Schaller's Golden Shadows, Flying Hooves (Schaller,G.,1973), also acquired recognizable personalities. Again, the book is full of insights into the aggressive and predatory habits of these animals. As one reads the reports of laboratory observations of prey-killing and fighting among rats, one is struck by the extreme narrowness of viewpoint - it does indeed seem to be a case of learning more and more about less and less. In the wild, as Schaller points out,
"No creature stands alone; the scope of the study soon broadened to include not only the lion's predatory associates such as the hunting dog, but also the array of prey species on which the carnivores depend for survival."
The wide open spaces of Nature's laboratory, where the unexpected is always welcome and instructive, contrast with man's claustrophobic work space, where the unexpected is feared because it may confuse the experiment's simplistic design.
Unfortunately, we must leave the fresh air of the African plains and return to a particularly claustrophobic center of aggression research: the Psychology Department of the University of Iowa. There, a group of investigators have developed a plexiglass "fighting chamber" in which a rat selected as the target of aggression is restrained in a leather and metal harness and exposed to another rat stimulated to attack him by the receipt of as many as 100 electric shocks, up to an intensity of 2.5 mA. The target rats are also shocked (by electrodes attached to their hind paws) to provoke a display of threat behavior.
Fig. 1. Left: harnessed rat restrained upright; right: supine. Harness grids (C) are wired to electrified grid floor by cable (D). Metal plates (F) deliver shocks to aggressor's forepaws if aggressor stands on target rat's head. (Copyright,1976,Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, Inc.).
In a first experiment, 18 rats were used, in the second, no less than 408. The conclusion was that the more the restrained rats were goaded by increasing intense shocks into threat display, the less they were attacked by the others. However, the rats restrained in a supine rather than an upright position were apparently seen as less threatening and were therefore more frequently attacked, in some cases up to 200 times during three five-minute sessions. (Hynan, M.,1976).
Electric shocks and exposure to attacks by other rats were not the only source of suffering of animals in this institution. The Dept. of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported severe sanitation problems there in Dec. 1978. By March 1979 the Psychology Department had still not cleaned up: cages in the rabbit quarters were so caked with urine and fecal deposits that "they had to be individually cleaned with wire brushes, even after six passages through the cage washer." (Anon.,1979c).
Aside from the discomfort to the animals, such conditions can distort scientific findings. But does anyone care - except the hundreds of unfortunate creatures being subjected to these grotesque experiments?
More recently, the same subject has been investigated at Rutgers
University, New Jersey, in mice whose olfactory bulbs (in the
brain) had been surgically destroyed, thus eliminating their sense
of smell. A new wrinkle was added to the study by depriving some
of the animals of food and seeing how this affected their aggressiveness.
At the State University of New York, Oswego, 116 male rats were used to observe the effects of castration on their killing behavior. Castrated adult rats, some injected with male hormone, and others not castrated, were each placed in cages with three one-day old rat pups. The killing response was defined as "killing and cannibalizing at least one of the three pups." The different numbers of pups killed by the various groups of rats were noted. (Rosenberg, K.,1974).
At State University of New York, Buffalo, the effect on mouse killing in rats was studied after operations destroying the sense of smell either by cutting the olfactory nerves or by removing the olfactory centers in the brain. Rats with the severed nerves, and the unoperated ones, left the mice in their cages alone; those deprived of olfactory bulbs killed the mice by "emotional, disorganized biting all over the body," in contrast to the efficient, quickly lethal biting of natural killing. (Spector, S., 1972).
A similar experiment, using castrated mice isolated for 30 days to "induce aggression" and encouraged to attack spayed female mice smeared with urine, was performed under the auspices of San Jos & State and Chico State Universities in California by D. Duvall and associates. The urine had been collected from mice who had been treated with the sex hormones testosterone and progesterone; and by such methods as counting the number of bites on the victims per fighting bout, the investigators tried to assess the attack- eliciting characteristics of the various urines used. In the discussion the investigators noted results which were contrary to those obtained by Lee and Griffo as reported above and in another paper (1976). The crux of the matter seemed to be whether the attack-eliciting urine smeared on some of the mice was stale or fresh. Unfortunately, the urine Duvall et al. used was both stale and fresh, since all the urine specimens collected over a period of 20 hours were inadvertently mixed together, whereby the nuances of stale versus fresh "urinary stimulus configuration," by the experimenters' own admission, "may have been lost." (Duvall, D., 1978).
Reader! a penny for your thoughts ....
In the 50's and 60's, much work on "pain centers"
and "pleasure centers" in the brain was carried out
at Yale by José Delgado, a picaresque neuropsychologist
who would like to see "human society 'psychocivilized' through
brain stimulation and other influencing techniques." (Lausch,
E.,1972, p. 121). Some of his experiments involved electroshocking
monkeys in brain areas known to produce intense pain. (Delgado,
An idea of the pain suffered by these monkeys may be obtained by comparison with experiments in which the same brain areas were stimulated in man by B. Nashold and other neurosurgeons. The surgeons implanted electrodes in patients in the course of operations and recorded the sensations reported by the latter during electrical stimulation. In the area of the central gray matter at the level of the superior colliculus in the midbrain, stimulation produced bodily sensations of pain, burning, vibration and cold. In addition, a patient would experience feelings which were "described as 'fearful,' 'frightful,' or 'terrible,' and he would become apprehensive and not allow further stimulations." (Nashold, B., 1969).
Delgado implanted an electrode in the same place (the central gray area near the superior colliculus) in the brain of a rhesus monkey named "Harry." First, with the monkey in restraint, 1.2 milliampere shocks were given. Harry tried to grab anything in reach, bit the chair after every shock, then, released into a small cage, bit the swing as the shocks continued, attacked other monkeys, and finally climbed the wall and clung there.
Although humans, once they had experienced it, could not stand a second stimulation in this brain area, Harry was subjected to 40 minutes of intermittent shocks and 2 minutes of continuous shocks. Other monkeys shocked in the same area responded with screams, grimaces and "signs of aggressiveness directed against the investigator." Through multiple electrodes implanted in their brains, Delgado tested various areas known to cause offensive-defensive reaction when stimulated, and over a period of two days he subjected the monkeys to more than 120 stimulations at each cerebral point, after which they were killed and autopsied.
Although he proposes a hypothesis that brain mechanisms for perception of pain and aggressive behavior have different anatomical and physiological systems, he admits that the evoked aggression was often secondary to electrical excitation of the pain pathways, and that the monkeys demonstrated this by their screams ("high-pitched vocalizations"), dilated pupils, snarling expressions and efforts to escape.
The research on prey-killing has been carried forward at Yale
University in recent years by John P. Flynn, Professor of Psychology,
and his associates Y.C. Huang, C. Chi, R.J. Bandler, and M.H.
Sheard. One group of experimenters, for example, took ten cats
"which did not spontaneously attack or kill rats," drilled
holes through their skulls and inserted electrodes into the ventral
midbrain. "With the onset of stimulation the cat went directly
to the [anesthetized] rat and bit it repeatedly about the head
and neck often with fatal results." (Chi, C.,1976).
The work at Yale has received handsome grants from the U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare and several of the National Institutes of Health, and a laudatory mention of Dr. Flynn's experiments in the Dec. 1976 issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine. The writer informs the alumni that these experiments "may help man to master his own violent instincts" even though "the 'emotional' aspects of aggression in animals remain beyond the reach of empirical science." (Tucker, J., 1976, p.36).
What also remains beyond the reach of this kind of science is the emotional aspects of aggression in the experimenters themselves.
The story of Roger Ulrich's experiments, and their aftermath, discussed below, unhappily confirms this observation.
As part of her testimony on Sept. 30, 1976 before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, Christine Stevens read several paragraphs which had appeared in my Painful Experiments on Animals (1976), on the work of Dr. Roger Ulrich. A year and a half later, Dr. Ulrich wrote a letter to the Editor of Monitor, a publication of the American Psychological Association, which read in part:
"I noticed in the article 'Animal Research: Open Season on Scientists' (Aug. 1977 Monitor) that in testimony before a House subcommittee, Christine Stevens, secretary of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, singled out some of my earlier research on pain and aggression as an example of inhumane treatment of animal subjects. I am heartened that this has happened....
Initially my research was prompted by the desire to understand and help solve the problem of human aggression but I later discovered that the results of my work did not seem to justify its continuance. Instead I began to wonder if perhaps financial rewards, professional prestige, the opportunity to travel, etc. were the maintaining factors and if we of the scientific community (supported by our bureaucratic and legislative system) were actually a part of the problem....
When I finished my dissertation on pain-produced aggression, my Mennonite mother asked me what it was about. When I told her she replied, 'Well, we knew that. Dad always warned us to stay away from animals in pain because they are more likely to attack.' Today I look back with love and respect on all my animal friends from rats to monkeys who submitted to years of torture so that like my mother I can say, Well, we know that'...."
It seems only fair to Dr. Ulrich to print this statement about
his change of heart, especially since I was not aware when I previously
described his research that self-doubts about his role as a behaviorist
and conductor of aggression research on animals had started in
the late 1960's, and that by 1973 he was writing critically: "We
studied a single rat or a single pigeon in a small chamber over
a long period of time ... We weren't necessarily interested in
the organism; we were interested only in specific responses of
that organism." (Ulrich, R.,1973).
This inability of animal behaviorists to see animals as individuals, indeed, as members of a whole society of beings, has frustrated their efforts to apply their findings to the human condition. Ulrich is keenly aware of this and is trying to put that awareness into practice. But to appreciate his present viewpoint it is necessary to know what he has done in the past (and what many others who have not had a humane or philosophical awakening are still doing). For this reason, the following paragraphs from my description of his 1966 article, "Pain as a cause of aggression," are reproduced. (Ulrich, R.,1966).
"Ulrich's work since 1962, and up to recent years at Western University in Kalamazoo, consisted largely in causing pain to rats and observing the resulting aggressive behavior. The investigator would give painful foot shocks to the rats through an electrified grid floor, with a frequency of up to 38 shocks per minute, or sometimes even higher so that the shocks were virtually continuous. The intensity of the shocks (and each intensity lasted for periods of at least 10 minutes) ranged up to the very strong and painful 5 milliamperes. 'Prolonged exposure to shocks of 5mA. often resulted in paralysis of one or both of these subjects.' A more sensitive strain of rat (Wistar) could not stand even half this intensity, and four died after exposure to 2 mA. As for duration of the shock sessions, 200 shocks of various duration 'were given to six pairs of rats each day for 12 days.' Another pair of rats were given no less than 15,000 shocks in a period of 7.5 hours. Another five rats were shocked every day for 80 days, causing them to fight 'more viciously, often cutting and bruising each other severely.
Ulrich then introduced other distressing stimuli. The metal floor of the cage was heated, causing the rats to jump about, licking their feet as it grew hotter. Then the floor was cooled with dry ice - this was not effective in producing fighting: the rats lay on their backs to escape the cold. Bursts of intense noise (135 dcb., sustained for more than 1 min.) were introduced. The effects of castration were tried; the animals were shocked wearing hoods, and, finally, one pair had their whiskers cut off and were blinded by removal of their eyes." (Pratt, D.,1976, p.61-62).
The horror, and tragedy, of these appalling experiments is
heightened by the knowledge that some of those who participated
in them now feel that they were scientifically useless. The Monitor article mentioned above stimulated a member
of the Psychology Department at Western Michigan University, Dr.
Robert Brown, to write to Mrs. Stevens in the fall of 1977.
His letter, in part, follows:
"Dear Christine Stevens,...I am a graduate student at Western Mich. Univ. studying under Dr. Ulrich, and I thought you might be interested to know about some of the changes he has gone through, particularly in relation to the use of animal subjects in research.
Dr. Ulrich, myself and others working out of the Behavior Research and Development lab no longer believe that the scientific information derived from the type of experimentation we previously conducted merits the imprisonment, torture and extermination of any member of any human or non-human species, and that continued research of this sort should stop. We have come to these conclusions based partly on the results of the animal research itself and extrapolations to human behavior. This has led us to a realization of the vital bond between humans and animals, and the necessity of treating animals with the same consideration we show towards members of our own species. Consequently, we are seeking alternatives to the inhumane and wasteful practices of some current experimental procedures .... Sincerely, Robert Brown." (Brown, R.,1977).
It would lead us too far from the theme of this book to explore
the conversion of Roger Ulrich in detail. However, this animal
behaviorist whose experiments admittedly subjected animals to
torture now speaks of "my animal friends from rats to monkeys,"
and has been influenced by the pantheistic philosophy of the American
Indian mystic Rolling Thunder, a man who felt that the Earth was
an organism and that he himself, and "the deer, snakes, bees,
mosquitoes, ants and pinyon trees were one being." (Boyd,D.,1974,p.166).
At the same time Ulrich warns against an image of a "new
Roger Ulrich" repudiating his past. The past, he says,
is to be learned from. "I don't see myself as doing
research anymore but, rather, consider Roger Ulrich a subject
and part of the experiment. Under those circumstances, I hardly
know who to thank other than the Great Spirit of life that is
responsible for all." (Ulrich, R.,1979b).
One of the central events in Ulrich's progress toward this new orientation was the discovery that in the experimental community where he and a group of fellow "behavioral engineers" went to live in the 1960's, they were unable to control themselves the way they did their animals in the laboratory, or to solve problems of aggression, distrust, and choice of goals. What they had learned in the behaviorists laboratory was of no avail. Ulrich comments on the behaviorists' approach as follows:
"When we study the individual's behavior, we are studying a system of relationships; yet, in a sense, we are examining it too closely. All we see are atomic events, and we overlook the integrated systems which would explain the behavior sensibly if we could only see it. Our scientific methods of description suffer from a defective conception of the individual. The individual is not by any means contained inside a given envelope of skin. This individual organism is the particular and unique focal point of a network of relations which is ultimately a 'whole series."' (Ibid., p.42).
By attempting to study aggression in animals "atomically," by concentrating merely on the "specific response" of a rat or a pigeon, by his inability to see the animal as part of a network of relations with other pigeons and rats, and as a part of a "whole series" which includes himself provoking the aggression, the experimenter fails to get the object of his study truly into focus. Not only is he unable to understand the nature of animals; he perpetually fails to learn anything about "aggression" as it applies to his own kind.
At the Bronx Zoo in New York the visitor passes through various animal houses then, turning a corner, confronts a frame over which is inscribed: THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL ON EARTH. In the frame, which holds a large mirror, he sees himself. The experimenter who approaches his animal victims with scalpel and electrode is also looking into such a mirror. He can learn little from it about the animal. But if he looks intently into the glass, as Ulrich finally did, he will discern there his own-menacing image. Surely he can learn much more by thinking about the torture, both mental and physical, which from time immemorial he has perpetrated on his own kind, than he can learn from artificially-stimulated aggression research on animals. All of us, in fact, must share this burden of introspection, because we are all involved, at different levels of consciousness, in aggression toward our own kind and every other species.
Deprivation experiments - critics have called them "deprivology"
- are designed to interfere with the special senses or the brain
centers controlling them, or otherwise to frustrate instinctive
behavior ("survival behavior" from the evolutionary
point of view). The interference may disturb seeing, grooming,
eating, smelling, mating or seeking maternal or peer contact (i.e.,
protection). The resulting functional disabilities and somatic
pathology can be minutely described, but whether the knowledge
gained at such a great price is likely to lead to the saving or
prolonging of life, or the alleviation of suffering, in humans
or animals, is a matter which readers must decide for themselves.1
One of the first experiments which came to my attention after I became actively interested in animal protection was performed by two zoologists at the University of Texas, Austin, and reported in 1971. (Underwood, H.,1971). The sex glands of male sparrows change in weight in response to seasonal changes in sunlight. The investigators wished to find out if the stimulus for this was mediated by the retina, so they took 414 wild house sparrows and blinded half of them to see if this affected the gonadal response. It didn't. We are not told what happened to these little victims of science, but I have wondered what kind of zoologists could live comfortably among birds they have blinded. Especially if "His eye is on the sparrow.... "
It appears that the blinding of cats and monkeys is currently
a popular experiment. This is usually done by suturing the lids
together, either of one eye or of both, during the first few weeks
of life. The animal is allowed to live in this condition for months
or even a year or two before being killed and coming to the autopsy
table. At that point, brain sections are prepared for microscopic
study, and degeneration of cells in the visual pathways are carefully
mapped. If an electron microscope is employed, very minute changes
can be detected, so there is always something to report.
Table I, on p.49, from a paper entitled "Effect of lid suture on retinal ganglion cells in Macaca Mulatta [rhesus monkey]" (Von Noorden, G.,1977), summarizes the experimental data. All the monkeys had one eye sutured except No. L35M, who had both eyes sutured for 10 weeks. The eyes of CR2, the normal control, were not touched.
Cats are frequently used. As Loop and Sherman say in their paper,
"A great deal of current research has been directed at an analysis of early deprivation upon the developing mammalian system. A common experimental subject has been the visually deprived cat in which deprivation is produced by eyelid suture. This procedure deprives developing visual system structures of normal light and pattern stimuli and causes a variety of anatomical, physiological and behavioral abnormalities."
These experimenters sewed up one eye in a single kitten, and
both eyes in five kittens, before the animals were 10 days old,
and "lid closure was rigorously maintained throughout the
first 6 months of age." Various tests were made to see how
the cats discriminated between light and darkness while their
eyes were still sutured and then after the lids were opened. Their
ability to discriminate was affected by six variables: open lids;
closed lids; dilated pupils and increased retinal sensitivity
in the dark; constricted pupils and decreased retinal sensitivity
in the light. (Loop, M.,1977).
In a Harvard Medical School experiment, 9 kittens had one eye sutured and 17 both eyes sutured during the second week of life, and the eyes were left sutured until the animals were killed, some after one or two years of sightless existence. Electron microsopic studies of segments of the brain cortex innervated from the closed eye(s) revealed the absence of intracellular structures known as "polysomes" normally found in cells there (in the spiny stellate neurons). (LeVay, S.,1977). Thus, if function is inhibited, structural changes follow, just as immobilization of a limb is followed in time by wasting of the muscles.
How do animals behave after they have been subjected to these mutilations? Sakakura and Doty at the Center for Brain Research of the University of Rochester, New York, working with monkeys, noted the following:
"The blinding seemed to have the effect of 'calming' these highly excitable wild animals .... However, the paucity of movement and lack of appetite suggest a physiological effect .... It was common to discover the blind squirrel monkey during the day, unlike the intact animal, curled up in its home cage in the full posture of sleep, i.e., with its head between its knees, tail over its shoulders." In this experiment, electrodes had been implanted in the brain cortex to be used later for stimulation and electroencephalographic recording, after which the animals - macaque and squirrel monkeys -were blinded, two by having their eyeballs removed, and the rest through having their sight destroyed by induced glaucoma or photocoagulation. (Sakakura, H.,1976).
If an experiment seems to be entirely without significance, it is pointless to seek for alternatives. There are many experiments on animals which have produced information of value to humans or other animals; usually this means that the question which the experimenter hopes to find an answer to through his research is important and well formulated. But I do not perceive many significant questions posed by these experimenters who are engaged in sewing up eyelids and enucleatina eyeballs. Loop and Sherman ask: "Can a lid-sutured cat respond to any light stimulus while still deprived (i.e., can the cat 'see' before and/or immediately after the eyes are opened)?" These experimenters, with their monocularly and binocularly-sutured cats, have created a highly artificial situation: if their question had had any value to the human blind or had needed to be asked in actuality, the answer would long ago have been found through examination of humans. Also, since blindness is so widely distributed among humans, and has always aroused sympathy and exceptional financial support, there is certainly a vast amount of research utilizing the human blind, both as whole subjects and as operative or postmortem donors of ophthalmic material. For these reasons, there seems to be minimal justification for the distressful, mutilating experiments on animals reviewed above.
An investigator at the University of Oregon raised six litters
of mice, and after one day of life cut one forelimb off 12 of
the mice and both forelimbs off another 12. In spite of the amputations,
the mice managed to groom their faces by coordination of shoulder,
tongue and eye, only occasionally assuming "exaggerated 'tucking'
posture as if they were attempting to reach the face with the
limb stubs." This was recorded on film over a period of 5
months, and was said to demonstrate that grooming is not dependent
on "exogenous" contact between paws and face, but is
under internal, genetic control. The National Institute of Mental
Health partly financed the research. (Fentress, J., 1973).
Several 1977 experiments on grooming in cats after brain centers controlling this behavior had been destroyed are summarized by J. Diner in his Physical and Mental Suffering of Experimental Animals. (Diner, J.,1979, p.59). The Universities of Princeton and Iowa participated, and the open-handed National Institute of Mental Health came forward with financial support. Lengthy film recordings and elaborate statistical analyses were made, and it was determined that these brain-damaged cats had been transformed from their usual clean selves into "filthy" creatures. They had trouble removing tapes stuck to their fur, licked in mid-air instead of over the surface of their bodies, and failed "to exhibit the normal temporal pattern of grooming behaviors." (Swenson, R.,1977).
These many hours of film showing cats vainly striving to lick and unstick themselves must be of absorbing interest. Bravo National Institute of Mental Health for helping to preserve for posterity this monument to stick-to-itiveness. I don't use this phrase facetiously: psychologists have been sticking tenaciously to grooming experiments ever since 1892, when the German experimenter F. Goltz described abnormal grooming in a dog after bilateral removal of the cerebral hemispheres. (Goltz, F.,1892).
W.H. Moorcroft and his colleagues deprived 81 rats of food
and water and measured their spontaneous running about as compared
with control rats which were not starved. The starving rats' locomotion
reached - in 15-20 days - a level of frenzied activity 10 times
that of the normal rats, before it began to decline, ending with
the death by thirst and hunger of the 81 subjects (some lasted
as long as 30 days).
The hyperactivity was related to an arousal of that part of the brain known as the "reticular activating system." (Moorcroft,W.,1971).
In more recent work, Kim and Pleasure at the University of
Pennsylvania School of Medicine point out that the effect of malnutrition
on the development of the central nervous system in the whole
animal is obscured by many responses (hormonal among others) to
the dietary manipulation. As an alternative, they have grown newborn
mouse cerebellar tissue in culture, and studied the effect of
serum deprivation on the myelin sheaths of the nerves and the
junction points (synapses) of the nerve endings. The serum-starved
nerves were seen to be retarded in their development, thus reproducing
in the test tube the effects of malnutrition. (Kim, S.,1978).
The experiments at the American Museum of Natural History in
New York by L. Aronson and M. Cooper on cats, beginning in the
early 1960's and continuing until Dr. Aronson's retirement in
Aug. 1977 included the surgical destruction (by electrolysis)
of the olfactory areas, or "bulbs," in the brain and
thus the cats' sense of smell. They also included studies of the
desensitization of the glans penis, genital desensitization of
the female cat, castration of the male, surgical destruction of
the "genital representation areas" in the cortex of
the brain - and the evaluation of all these mutilations on sexual
performance of the male cat.
The ablation of the olfactory bulbs in the rhinencephalon (the "smell brain") has been mostly shown by other investigators to cause a decrease in mating ability in rodents, but in the cat, to Aronson and Cooper's surprise, small but significant increases in overall sex behavior occurred. However, the authors admit that all the efforts that have been made to investigate the effect on sexual behavior of depriving an animal of the sense of smell have been confusing. For example, experimenters have attempted to produce a loss of the sense of smell in rats, hamsters and mice by 1. damaging the nasal epithelium with zinc sulphate, 2. damaging it mechanically, 3. anesthetizing it with procaine hydrochloride, but "the results of these experiments are contradictory. Larsson, Lisk et al., and Doty and Anisko found that dysfunction of the olfactory epithelium produced decrements in sexual behavior similar to olfactory bulbectomy, whereas Powers and Winans and Rowe and Smith found no decrements at all .... In male rabbits, Stone and Brooks reported continued mating following
destruction of the olfactory bulbs." (Aronson, L.,1974b).
Although they emphasized that "past studies on this problem have all had serious methodological deficiencies resulting, at present, in a very confused picture," Aronson and Cooper nevertheless applied to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for a further five year grant, 1974-79, totaling $195,560, proposing to destroy eight other areas in a section of the brain (the limbic region, related to the olfactory bulbs) by producing electrolytic lesions there. Despite failures of "all" past studies, they said that they anticipated "no difficulties in clarifying the hypersexuality problem and the relationship of the limbic system to sexual behavior generally." They did admit, however, "the limitation of the lesion methods in neurological research: small differences in the location and extent of lesions will increase variability, and it is difficult to separate this variability from other sources of variability .... Lesions of some areas especially the septum may result in highly aggressive animals that are difficult to handle. This, of itself, may cause decrements in sexual behavior even if special cages designed to test these animals with minimal handling are used." (They asked for $700 for the construction of such cages). (Aronson, L.,1974a).
This program was suddenly interrupted in 1976 by a wave of
anti-vivisectionist objections, stimulated by a New York teacher,
Henry Spira, who obtained information about the research through
the Freedom of Information Act. The protests spread nationally,
fueled by the outrage of friends of cats, public demonstrations
outside the Museum, and wide coverage in the media. There was
a Congressional hearing, loss of face and of some revenue by the
American Museum of Natural History, and, finally, an announcement
in 1977 by the beleaguered Museum that Dr. Aronson would retire.
However, before that event, he and Dr. Cooper managed to complete one part of their exploration of the limbic area of the brain, placing electrolytic lesions in the amygdala. This seemed to change a male cat's sexual preference, or perception: in the presence of a female cat and rabbit, he mounted the rabbit. When Congressman Edward I. Koch was told about this, he was less impressed by its possible scientific significance than by his discovery that the Aronson-Cooper experiments had cost the government a total of $435,000.
In Aug. 1977 Dr. Aronson finally left the Museum. The cat experiments were terminated, and H.P. Zeigler and other members of the Museum's Department of Animal Behavior busied themselves with such matters as "Brain stimulation and reinforcement in pigeons" and "Trigeminal deafferentation and feeding in rats," (partially supported by the National Institutes of Health). Presumably they hope that the friends of pigeons and rats will not begin questioning the humanity of such experiments on the scale that occurred in the case of the cats.
The story of the cats reveals several pitfalls in such experiments.
1. The impossibility of controlling the many variables, even the physical ones. As the experimenters themselves admitted, the placing of lesions produces uncertain results. In fact, owing to the immense complexity of the brain, surgical destructive lesions are really gross mutilations; although they invariably produce some functional loss (a descriptive paper can always be written), no two have identical effects. As more experiments are done, not clarification but increased confusion often develops.
2. The interspecies variables. For reasons of convenience, the rodent has been the favorite subject of many of these experiments. The primate's sexuality has also been investigated (e.g. at Yerkes Primate Center). Now the cat: "The control of hypersexuality and hyposexuality," said Aronson and Cooper, "are urgent clinical problems, and the results of our proposed experiments should contribute in major ways to the eventual solution of these problems." (Ibid., p.35). If these vague entities are "urgent clinical problems" (which I doubt), it seems that they should be investigated directly in humans. Yet these experimenters waved aside the vast gulf that exists between the human and other species in sexual behavior, especially when their particular animal model was concerned, or when they were applying for a grant and were prepared to drag in half the animal kingdom to prove that the research was "representative."
3. The psychological variables. Cats driven to a frenzy by septal lesions have "decrements in sexual behavior" which even behaviorists recognize as emotional outbursts. But the many other emotional variables which can affect sexual performance - fear, depression, confinement, presence of other cats or humans, etc. - are often ignored.
Hamsters, which live in dark burrows, rely on their sense of
smell to detect an intruder; the alien odor precipitates an attack.
M. Murphy and his associates showed that if the olfactory stimuli
are blockaded peripherally or centrally, the aggression is almost
completely eliminated (and so is mating behavior). (Devor, M.,1973;
Murphy, who is a psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, continued the above experiments by blinding 13 hamsters; there were 13 normal, sighted hamsters as controls. Each of these 26 animals was put in a cage with a non-aggressive, olfactory-bulbectomized hamster, which they soon attacked. However, the attack of the blind hamsters continued much longer than that of the hamsters- with intact vision. The author's explanation is that the blind could not see the visual signs of submission, just as in the dark burrow the attack would continue until the intruder had been forced above ground, where visual stimuli from the latter's display of the black markings on his chest - an indication of submission - would inhibit the attacker. (Murphy, M.,1976).
Murphy's observation, above, was ingenious and probably accurate,
but it could have been made in the field rather than in the laboratory,
avoiding the mutilating operations. R.M. Lockley's The Private
Life of the Rabbit (Lockley,R.,1965) comes to mind, a splendid
study in depth of a colony of rabbits, their fights, their matings,
and their surprising physiology. Richard Adams derived much material
for his Watership Down from this book, and in the Introduction
to the 1976 edition he says, "From Ron Lockley I learned
that rabbits (as Strawberry protests to General Woundwort)2 had
dignity and 'animality' - the quality corresponding to 'humanity'
in men and women." (Adams, R., 1976).
Some of the confusion among the animal behaviorists referred to by Dr. Aronson might be dispelled if they stepped outside and took a closer look at that "animality." Perhaps even the American Museum of Natural History will let in some fresh air. In his 1976-77 Annual Report, the Director, Thomas Nicholson, indicated that Dr. Aronson's successor would be "someone whose work would place greater emphasis on natural populations of animals and on field research, as opposed to physiologically-oriented laboratory research with domesticated or laboratory-bred animals." (AMNH,1977).
To be deprived of one of the special senses isolates an animal
from some part of the environment. It also frustrates instinctive
behavior, or in terms of evolution theory, behavior which allows
the organism so endowed to survive better. But, important as seeing,
hearing, and sexual expression are, the need for protection or
love, particularly from family or peers, is equally so. Depriving
monkeys of this by isolating them from their mothers, families
or peers has been the specialty of Harry Harlow and his group
at the Primate Laboratory of the University of Wisconsin since
the 1950's. (Harlow,H.,1962). They were stimulated by the work
of R. Spitz, J. Bowlby and others who had studied psychopathological
symptoms in human infants and children separated from one or both
The Wisconsin group kept some young rhesus totally isolated for many months and up to as long as two years. Some, in a cubicle with solid walls, could see no living thing beside themselves - not even the experimenters, who observed them through a one-way mirror. The latter then attempted to cure the disorders which their isolation techniques had caused by allowing the isolates to socialize with "monkey therapists" - normal, playful monkeys either younger or older - or to be reunited with their mothers. Not surprisingly, the longer the isolation the more persistent were the behavior disorders. At other times, surrogate "mothers" - warm, cloth-covered dummies - were offered to the deprived infants, who avidly clung to them. But in another experiment, to induce a "schizoidlike" condition, the dummy would suddenly turn ice-cold, supposedly simulating the human mother who, according to one theory, induces the disorder in a child by her unpredictable and contradictory behavior. The child "splits" between the desire to cling and the desire to escape; it's in a "double bind." The monkey, too, is doubly bound - to the accepting-rejecting dummy mother. Its distress is evident.
"Depressive" states were produced by solitary confinement,
sometimes for a month and a half in a "well of despair",
a closed box with stainless steel sides sloping inward so that
the animal could hardly move about at the bottom. Harlow himself
called it a "modified form of sadism." Or - and perhaps
even more excruciating - the infant would abruptly be separated
from its mother but could still see her through a partition of
clear plastic. Typically, the infant responded to this form of
separation with violent agitation, protest screeching and persistent
staring at the mother, followed by lapses into despair with whimpering,
self-clasping, and immobility. (Suomi, S.,1976).
The Wisconsin group feel that the psychopathology they induce in monkeys through experiments such as the above is similar to that in humans. Its expression will be limited by the disparity between monkey and human behavior and intellectual level, but providing the symptoms can be "explained" in both species by, for example, a disruption of social attachment bonds, then, they maintain, the syndromes are comparable. I suspect there is wishful thinking here, especially as they admit that in these experiments they are "not unaware of human data - quite frankly, they tend to bias our research efforts." (Suomi, S.,1974, p.24). Certainly their "monster-mothers" and "wells of despair" can be expected to produce as much terror, grief and despair as any well-appointed torture chamber, but that the reactions are analogous to schizophrenia, psychotic reactions or sociopathology seems most unlikely. On the other hand, psychotic and psychopathic conditions can be accurately identified and studied directly in humans, so why continue these misguided efforts to drive monkeys into insanity when so many humans have already arrived there?
Much has been made of the fact that the deprived monkeys consistently preferred the cloth mother to one made of exposed metal, or wire, even when the latter gave them milk. The experimenters thought that this showed that contact comfort, rather than feeding, or early sexual attachment, was the prime factor in an infant's love for its mother. But their simplistic interspecies comparisons have been challenged. It has been pointed out that contact comfort is more important in monkeys than in man, and anyone who has watched an infant monkey clinging tightly to its mother as the latter swings through the trees can easily understand why. But Harlow is scornful of such observations. "Look, you will never learn the factors that produce depression or other pathological syndromes in the wild.... Sure, you can get some crude information for evening chatting, and you would have plenty of evenings, but you will never get definitive data by observation." (Tavris,C.,1973).
However, the hope that extreme laboratory distortions of an animal's natural ways will produce information either applicable to man, or of relevance to the species itself, is not likely to be gratified. As we have seen so often in these behaviorist studies, the variables inherent in such experiments confuse the results. Harlow's use of the rhesus as model earns this comment from R.A. Hinde:
"The relevance of the monkey data for man might have appeared in a different light had the early experiments been conducted with bonnet macaques rather than rhesus. A short separation experience in infancy produces immediate distress and detectable long-term effects in socially living rhesus monkeys, but not in bonnets kept under comparable conditions. Thus, attempts to generalize from a particular animal model to man may well lead to false conclusions." (Hinde, R.,1976, p.195).
False conclusions or not, the juggernaut at Wisconsin Primate Laboratory rolls on through the 1970's. A paper entitled "Effects of maternal and peer separation on young monkeys" appeared in 1976 (Suomi, S.,1976), and 1977 brought forth "Opponent-process interpretation of multiple peer separations in rhesus monkeys." (Mineka , S .,1977).
Roger Ulrich's criticism of the behavorist's method: that it fails because it sees only atomic events and not integrated systems can also be applied to "deprivology." In contrast, the ethologist's approach - direct observation of the behavior of the animal in its natural environment -particularly emphasizes the importance of context. To understand an aspect of behavior, it must be studied as part of the whole repertoire of the animal's actions and reactions, and these in turn must be fitted into the context of species behavior viewed in an evolutionary perspective. This is a paraphrase of comments by Mary Ainsworth, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, discussing papers by John Bowlby and Dr. Harlow's principal associate, Stephen Suomi, at a Kittay Symposium. Although she tempers her criticism with praise, she concludes with a summary of her own naturalistic studies of human mother-infant interaction in the first year of the infant's life. It can be read as an effective alternative to work such as Harlow's and Suomi's. A quotation will illustrate the quality of her observational method, based, says Dr. Ainsworth, on an ethological-evolutionary orientation originating with Konrad Lorenz. It is not, she wryly adds, "popular with grant-awarding panels."
"We identified a maternal behavior that we labeled 'tender, careful holding'....A mother who handles her tiny baby tenderly and carefully engenders in him a positive response to physical contact, and in turn this positive response inspires his mother to affectionate display, which undoubtedly consolidates his pleasure in contact. But do babies so handled become spoiled and overdependent and unhappy when not in contact? No. Even during the first three months of life, babies so handled protest less frequently when put down than do babies with less pleasant contact experiences. And by the end of the first year it is clearly the babies who most enjoy physical contact who are cheerful about its cessation, and then tend to turn promptly to independent exploratory play." (Ainsworth, M.,1976, p.45).
The National Institutes of Health has poured millions of public funds into the Wisconsin Primate Laboratory - $2,217,821 in 1978 alone (US NIH,1979) - keeping Harlow's group richly supplied with the now endangered rhesus plus all the torturous paraphernalia of "deprivology." Yet work such as Ainsworth's is "not popular with grant-awarding panels." What a commentary on governmental research priorities!
Since the days of Pavlov, early in the century, investigators
have been conditioning animals by punishment, usually electric
shock, or the fear of punishment. They use the word "aversive"
as euphemism for "painful" or "pain-avoiding,"
the ugly sound of the word fear is often softened by writing it
"fear," as if animals don't really know it as man does,
and fear associated with a painful stimulus may be referred to
as "Conditioned Emotional Response," or CER ("in
the case of shock-avoidance responding ... a CER is held somehow
to add to or increase the level of aversive motivation").
An experiment by S.R. Scobie at the State University of New York, Binghamton, subjected 48 rats to shock which they learned to avoid in a shuttle-box. After training, they carried on avoidance behavior when they heard a signal (the conditioned stimulus) which had been associated with the shock. If a second shock was then given along with the signal, they became fearful and ran faster in the shuttle-box. But when this second shock was made very intense, to produce overwhelming fear, the rats froze with terror and were no longer able to flee from the electrified area delivering the original shock. (Scobie, S.,1972).
This is only one of innumerable ways investigators have devised to develop then interfere with an animal's attempt to avoid a painful stimulus.
Jay Weiss at Rockefeller University has performed similar experiments on rats trained in avoidance at the sound of a warning signal, only to receive a shock every time they execute the previously correct response. As a result they developed severe gastric ulceration. Weiss is unusually ingenious in his treatment of rats. He likes to work with pairs, with one partner able to avoid shock by a manipulation; the other bound and helpless. "The rats were subjected to one continuous stress session lasting 21 hours, with the shocks, each preceded by a signal, scheduled to occur at the rate of one per minute. After the conclusion of the session all animals were sacrificed [the investigators' euphemism for "killed"] and their stomachs were examined for gastric lesions." On an average, the bound helpless rat had three times as much stomach ulceration as his "avoidance" fellow.(Weiss, J.,1971).
Another method of producing gastric ulceration in rats, devised
by S.C. Boyd and associates at Vanderbilt University, Nashville,
combined so many stressful procedures that a canceling-out rendered
the experiment partially ineffective. The experimenters used "cold-restraint"
combined with electric shock. Rats were starved for either one
or two days, then immobilized in plastic restraining devices and
placed in a refrigerator, with a temperature of from 3o - 7oC.
The animals were left in the icebox for periods up to six hours,
and the degree of ulceration was found to vary with respect to
drugs administered (reserpine, atropine) and the length of time
in cold-restraint. However, when different schedules of painful
electric shocks were given, the experimenters could not produce
variations in the degree of ulceration.
They decided that this didn't mean that the half-frozen animals had become insensitive to pain, because they squealed and struggled when shocked. But for these psychologists, anyway, the animals' failure to respond with more or less ulceration to classical variations in administering shocks frustrated the experimenters' efforts to investigate "psychological factors."
Reader, imagine yourself terrified, half-starved, half-frozen and immobilized in restraint. You are suffering intensely from gastric ulcers. A psychologist subjects you to painful electric shocks. Can you imagine what psychological material he will be able to elicit from you?
Screams? Struggling? Too trivial to discuss.
Boyd et al. conclude:
"Cold-restraint is viewed as an inappropriate technique to use in further examination of the influence of specific psychological factors on stress-induced ulceration." (Boyd, S.,1977).
C.L.J. Stokman and M. Glusman at the Psychiatric Institute,
New York City, planted electrodes in the brainstem (hypothalamus)
of four cats. "Stimulated" electrically, the cats showed
a flight response. After ten daily sessions of this, the animals
were again stimulated to flight but immediately punished by a
strong foot shock each time they attempted to flee. Eventually,
the punishment suppressed the flight reaction, but some of the
subjects needed much more punishment than others before they gave
This technique of subjecting animals to "inescapable" electric shock was originated by M. Seligman and J.B. Overmier and first reported in 1967. Dorworth and Overmier of the University of Minnesota in a recent paper (1977) describe the appearance of dogs subjected to this treatment. Restrained in a hammock, they are first given a series of inescapable shocks. Later, they are shocked in a situation where escape is possible, but instead of running off they fail to become "active and vocal, and react to shock with whimpering and passivity; they seem to give up all efforts to find a response for coping with the shocks [and] look pathetically helpless." The phenomenon has been named "learned helplessness." (Dorworth, T.,1977).
However, if a dog is given only one session of inescapable shock, the resulting helplessness will dissipate in time. This is true only for the dog not reared in the laboratory: for laboratory-reared dogs, and for rats, the helplessness does not dissipate. Seligman and his associates at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that the dogs of unknown past history have, in their prelaboratory days, succeeded in escaping from "natural aversive [i.e., distressing] events," in contrast to the cage-reared animals who are relatively deprived of escape experience.
"Escaping natural aversive events" could also have been expressed as "having prior experience of kindness and help from owners." The "36 mongrel dogs" used by Dorworth and Overmier (1977) were very likely all ex-pets, either abandoned, strayed or stolen. Apparently they still hoped that the torture being inflicted on them would be relieved by the experimenters, whom they doubtless associated in their minds with those other of the human species they had once loved. The laboratory-reared dogs and rats knew better.
Seligman and associates discovered one procedure (1968) that "reliably 'cured' dogs that repeatedly failed to escape in the shuttle-box following exposure to inescapable shock. These dogs were dragged by leashes back and forth across the shuttle-box to 'show' them that responding terminated shock. This form of 'putting through' was successful in all cases, but required 20- 200 draggings before the dogs responded reliably on their own." They used a similar procedure on the rat. (Seligman, M.,1975).
Attempts have been made to relate the behavior changes observed
under stress to changes in brain neurochemistry. Chemical substances
known as "neurotransmitters" can either increase or
decrease the perception of pain or stress, are apparently related
to emotional depression and are also influenced by, or themselves
influence, schizophrenic states. It has been suggested that the
phenomenon of "learned helplessness" can be explained
by the depletion of one of the neurotransmitters, norepinephrine.
(Weiss,j.,1976,p.157). S. Maier and Seligman, on the contrary,
dispute this and relate the phenomenon to the fact that the animals
exposed to inescapable shock have, literally, learned that there
is nothing to be done; their behavior reflects that knowledge.
What can be made of all this? Surely these experimenters are
contributing little or nothing to an understanding of the complexities
of human anxiety or depressive states. If anything, these tortured
and terrified dogs appear to be suffering from a traumatic reaction,
similar to the soldier's "shellshock," battle exhaustion
or gross stress reaction occurring under circumstances in which
men felt that physical destruction was inescapable.
Psychiatric study of human reaction to maximal stress has concentrated on the subjective symptoms: anxiety, repetitive nightmares, depression. Animal behaviorists, lacking access to such phenomena as the dreams of their subjects, have concentrated on objective signs, such as "learned helplessness." This concept seems to have captured the imagination of many behaviorists as a very innovative idea. However, helplessness associated with traumatic situations is hardly a new concept to students of human psychopathology. Freud in 1926 observed the significant role it played, noting that helplessness manifested itself physically when the danger was objective and psychologically when it was instinctual. (Freud,S.,1926). In 1948 Franz Alexander wrote that traumatic symptoms "can be explained as signs of damage to the ego, which, under the intimidating influence of the trauma, abandons its mastery of coordination and regressively retreats to helplessness." (Alexander, F.,1948).
Unfortunately, there has always been abundant human material of this sort available in our war-torn world, and no lack of publications on the subject. Kardiner's Traumatic Neuroses of War, for example, published as long ago as 1941 and an influential contribution to military psychiatry on the eve of the United States's entering World War II, was a penetrating study of acute anxiety in humans under stress. (Kardiner, A.,1941).
Yet B.M. Mitruka, writing in 1976 about the "Use of Animals in Behavioral Research," in a textbook of which he is editor-in-chief, seeks to illustrate some of the psychodynamics in human manic-depressive psychosis by citing a 1957 experiment by C.P. Richter, from the Psychobiological Laboratory of Johns Hopkins Medical School, in which many rats rapidly gave up swimming and drowned when placed in small cylinders of water from which there was no escape. (Mitruka, B.,1976, p.242). Mitruka says that these rats are exhibiting "abnormal behavior." Normal behavior would be to continue swimming for several days impelled by an instinct or unconditioned reflex of self-preservation. However, the rats are overwhelmed by their loss of control of the environment, since their efforts are totally unrewarding, and sink into "maladaptive passive behavior" analogous to that experienced by humans suffering from a manic-depressive psychosis. They resemble Seligman's dogs, who became helpless in the face of inescapable electric shock.
Mitruka's statement shows how behaviorists are anxious to relate
human psychology to animal models and at the same time how they
distrust feelings - emotions - in animals as determinants of behavior.
The animals are said to experience "loss of control,"
as if their bodies were vehicles which they are no longer able
to steer; they "learn helplessness." The fact that they
are terrified is passed over. Instead, the rats' behavior is interpreted
as a failure of the survival instinct.
But this is not the explanation given by Curt Richter, who performed the experiment cited by Mitruka. Although Richter's aim was also strictly behavioristic - to obtain "constant, reproducible endurance records" of domesticated and wild rats swimming until they drown - he admits that an emotional reaction, hopelessness, was decisive in their behavior. Richter forced his rats to swim in jars 30 inches deep but only 8 inches in diameter, with a jet of water playing onto the surface of the water, in the center, to prevent the animals from floating. Prior to being placed in the jars, the rats were held in the experimenters' hand, in a black holding-bag. Some of the rats had their whiskers clipped. A few rats, particularly the domesticated ones, swam as long as 80 hours before they drowned; many of the wild rats, who reacted much more strongly to any restraint, either died while being handled or shortly after being placed in the water; most of the rats drowned quickly if their whiskers had been removed. Richter believed they all died from hopelessness, compounded by the loss of whiskers which destroyed "their most important means of contact with the outside world." (Richter, C.,1957).
Richter connects these sudden deaths with "voodoo death" among humans. In this, an individual who has broken a taboo is told by a witch doctor that he must die, and after experiencing great terror, sinks into despair and, in fact, often does die. Richter cites other instances of sudden death among apparently healthy people, for instance among those terrified of an operation, or among young soldiers, all of whom apparently die as a result of a belief in an approaching doom. In spite of Mitruka's suggested diagnosis, Richter himself does not draw a parallel between the psychological disintegration of these rats and a manic-depressive psychosis.
We therefore return to the point which I made on p.68, namely that the stress which animals are subjected to in this type of experiment merely produces a kind of traumatic reaction which has long been known from observations in humans. However, the analogy or extrapolation is greatly contaminated by variables in the procedure which have little or nothing to do with situations in which humans are likely to find themselves. Richter cites respiratory and vascular reactions in the rats - from being forced to swim in a nearly upright posture, or being held upright in the experimenter's hand, or being suddenly immersed in water; these may be as important as fear in producing the slowing of the heart rate and respiration, and heart failure, which are the physiological causes of death (for a discussion of how variables negate the value and ruin the application to the human condition of many of these animal experiments, see p.14).
There is a final turn of the screw in this macabre experiment.
The rats' hopelessness subsided when the experimenters from time
to time pretended,to free them, or momentarily "rescued"
them from the water. After this, imagining that the situation
was not quite hopeless, the wild rats would swim just as long
as the domesticated ones had, the latter having been more optimistic
in the first place because of previous experience of "gentling."
This reaction, incidentally, is comparable to that of Seligman's
"mongrel dogs," described on p.67, who were able to
overcome the feeling of helplessness produced by a relatively
brief exposure to inescapable shock if they had had some prior
experience of human support. Richter used this releasing and taking-up
technique to free the rats from feelings of hopelessness and thereby
to achieve those "constant, reproducible endurance records,"
unaffected by individual emotional variations, which to him were
obviously a much more suitable subject for behavioral analysis.
But of course this only postpones the rats' knowledge of their doom. Finally, the treachery of the experimenters becomes apparent to them, and the exhausted animals give up and drown.
In recent years, Richter appears to have transferred his interest from rat swimming marathons to study of the animal biological "clock." To see whether this is independent of the animals' perception of light and darkness, they are blinded just after birth. This was done to rats (Richter,C.,1971), and more recently to chipmunks (Richter,C.,1978).
Others have sustained their interest in rat swimming experiments since Richter's 1957 study: for example, rats have been forced to swim with weights on their tails, or while suffering from arthritis, or in icy water, etc. (LeBlanc, J.,1972). And every year Science Citation Index lists a group of these experiments under the heading, "Rats; swimming."
Curt Richter draws an analogy between learned helplessness in rats and the conviction which under special circumstances makes humans feel that they are helpless to escape impending doom. But if humans are also susceptible to learned helplessness, why not study them instead of lavishing time and resources on rats? This is a good question to put to the National Institute of Mental Health, which liberally dispenses public funds to those who specialize in teaching animals to despair. (Diner, J.,1979, p.140).
That it is possible to demonstrate learned helplessness in humans is proved by some harmless experiments by David Glass on college students (and a few older subjects). Glass reports these in a book which explores the relationship between a proneness to coronary disease and certain personality types. Two types, A and B, predominate, characterized as follows:
"Type A individuals exert greater efforts than Type B individuals to master stressful events which they perceive as a threat to their sense of control. These active coping attempts eventually extinguish in the face of uncontrollable stimuli, for without reward the relentless striving and time urgency of the Type A individual leads to frustration and psychic exhaustion, which culminate in giving up efforts at control. An almost ironic reversal of behavior is then observed, with Type A individuals showing greater signs of helplessness than their Type B counterparts." (Glass, D.,1977, p.7).
This is illustrated in an experiment in which both the A's
and the B's were subjected to noise bursts of a certain intensity.
In the "pretreatment phase," they were told that they
were able to control the noise by turning a knob in a particular
way; however, unknown to half of the subjects was the fact that
their knobs were unconnected with stimulus circuits and therefore
for them the noise stress was inescapable. Thus some of them "learned
helplessness," and this was reflected, in the subsequent
"test phase," by the way these "no escape"
subjects approached the task of curtailing renewed noise bursts
through manipulating a handle. Their performance proved true to
the types differentiated above.
Aside from avoiding the suffering customarily inflicted on animals by such experiments, this one had the great advantage of the subjects themselves being able to describe their feelings of helplessness and lack of control.
As far as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are concerned,
they continue to care for their patients largely unaware of these
behaviorist animal experiments of which they are the supposed
beneficiaries, while those behaviorists who are hooked on the
use of punishment via electric shock pursue their study of patterns
of "punished responding." Drugs, especially tranquilizers,
sedatives, anti-depressants, stimulants, and narcotics, are tested
to see what effects they have on the rate of responding. Obviously
the behavior of an animal under stress will be affected: sometimes
the rate increases, sometimes decreases. If these changes were
strictly and invariably related to the particular drug used, something
might be learned, but in fact the results often end up all over
the place because of the tremendous number of variables which
operate in even the simplest experiment. Here are some of them:
age of animal, sex, weight, genetic strain, diet (including duration
of starving prior to testing), temperature, humidity, cage construction,
bedding, time of day when drug is administered, number of test
animals per cage, speed of drug administration, time elapsing
between administration and testing, health of animals, extent
to which animals were handled in infancy as well as prior to test,
variations in drug (manufacture, age, storage, bottling, etc.),
insecticide sprays used in laboratories, skill of technicians,
errors of recording, and, as discussed above, the differences
in the experimenters' behavior as perceived and reacted to by
Further variables are introduced by the use of electricity. V.P. Houser states:
"The electrical resistance of animals varies widely (i.e., from several thousand to several million ohms) as they move about on a grid floor .... Thus grid shock is by its very nature a variable stimulus. By placing a large resistance in series with the animal subject, the constant-current shock generator reduces the variability .... This design is limited, however, by the fact that very large series resistances require the use of high source voltages. These voltages, in turn, can produce painful current arcs from the grid to the animal's body." (Houser,V.,1978, p.71).
Most devastating of all are the effects of the fear and pain
themselves: see Hillman's list on p. 51 , ending with the comment
that stress "is almost certainly the main reason for the
wide variation reported among animals upon whom painful experiments
have been done." (Hillman, H.,1970, p.51)
Houser also ends his 80 page review of the subject with a warning: the properties of clinically active drugs cannot be understood through their supposed effect on anxiety and fear and on behavior associated with these emotions. He shows that the experiments that are likely to produce the greatest distress ("conditioned emotional response" - CER - in the face of unavoidable shock) are just those which are least useful in elucidating the effects of these drugs. (Houser,V.,1978).
Unfortunately, he arrived at this essentially negative information partly as a result of an experiment which must have caused the most appalling suffering to the dogs who had to undergo it. Restrained on a table by ropes and a choke collar tied to an iron pipe above them, they were trained to escape shock by pressing a response panel. They then underwent surgery to remove the bladder and to externalize both ureters so that urine samples could be continuously collected without storage in the bladder. After recovery, they were subjected to unavoidable 8 mA shocks to their shaved legs during 140 sessions from which they could not escape - and this went on for an unstated number of days. A tranquilizing drug, chlorpromazine, was then given, but under the stress of the torturous procedure being inflicted on them, the dogs proved relatively insensitive to it. (Houser,V., 1976).
Let us assume for the sake of argument that the human demand
for drugs to control states of anxiety and depression, and to
alleviate pain, will inevitably result in a continuation of neurophysiological
experiments on animals. Some might feel that animals in a sense
have an obligation to contribute to the pain studies, since there
are obviously many veterinary uses for pain-relieving drugs. It
may therefore be realistic to look for refinements in technique
in those procedures in which animals are the standard experimental
models, without, of course, relaxing the demand for reduction
of the numbers used and replacement by non-sentient material whenever
The use of electric shock is open to such abuse that one hesitates to say anything which might be construed in its favor: "he who sups with the devil should use a long spoon." Nevertheless, as a possible first step toward alleviation of the distress of animals subjected to this technique, I offer a statement from the College of Medicine of the University of Florida at Gainesville. It appeared in the 1976 Annual Report of that facility under the Animal Welfare Act to explain why 3.0 of the 255 primates used in experiments that year received no pain-relieving drug.
"These animals received painful or non-painful electrical stimulation of their legs, and they always had the option of turning off the stimulus if they wished to. They were never subjected to long periods of painful stimulation over which they had no control. The animals tolerated these procedures very well. They have remained in good health with testing over periods of several years and have shown no overt signs of stress. They quite willingly enter the experimental testing situation, and they do not show undue signs of fear of the testing apparatus.
The experiments involving painful stimuli were specifically designed to study central nervous system mechanisms of pain, and, of course, it is impossible to do so without delivering stimuli sufficient to elicit pain reactions." (USDA/APHIS, Florida,Univ.of).
Another experimenter who, without abandoning animal experimentation,
nevertheless seems to be searching for more humane methods, is
Susan Iversen. She is a research psychologist at the University
of Cambridge in England and the co-author of Behavioral Pharmacology. (Iversen, S.,1975).
Why create a change in behavior (e.g. helplessness) through the application of severe physical and psychological pain, she inquires, when a much milder measure - a low dose of the stimulant amphetamine - will produce a simple change in the rat's locomotion which is equally informative? A drug can be injected to block the amphetamine effect, whereupon the rat's locomotion returns to normal. Iversen concludes:
"In regard to the particular research interests of my laboratory, while it is important to understand the etiology of abnormal behavior in animals and man, behavioral measures which involve psychological stress do not provide a necessary or desirable means of identifying drugs of therapeutic use." (Iversen, S., 1976, p.64).
In other experiments of this type, the normal circadian (around
the clock) activity of the animal can be observed for any alterations
which may be caused by toxicity; also, variations in feeding habits
can be noted. There remain a good many other variables which can
effect the results, but the absence of fear and experimental pain
will eliminate those which are both the most confusing and the
most inhumane. (NRC,1977, p.111).
Still another example is the investigation by Pieper of stimulant and depressant drugs in great apes (six chimpanzees and two orangutans). Before being given the different drugs, the apes were taught to pull a series of levers in a sequence cued by lights of varying brightness above the levers. If the sequence was followed correctly, the ape earned a candy or nut reward ("reinforcer"); if an error was made the lights were extinguished and no food was delivered during the seven second time-out. On certain days a placebo (inactive substance) was substituted, allowing behavior then to be compared with that on the days when the apes had received active drugs. The experiment demonstrated that mild "punishment" in the form of being deprived of a reward is an effective stimulus; certainly it is much more humane than the electric shocks so often used to punish animals who fail in learned responses. It's even likely that the apes looked forward to the daily "game" and its rewards. Some of the test drugs may have made them uncomfortable, but when they experienced frequent failures and consequently received no reward, they simply stopped responding and the session was terminated. (Pieper,W., l977, p.l67).
As soon as attention is paid to the type of experiment which
modifies behavior by reward instead of punishment, one can perceive
much more creative tasks for the behavioral psychologist. In one
direction his role begins to merge with that of the ethologist,
in another with the science teacher seeking to introduce students
to non-destructive observation of animals and their behavior.
The behaviorist's technique of "operant conditioning,"
defined as "behavior maintained by its own consequences,"
even has a place in medical rehabilitation, judging by the success
achieved with spastic children taught to use an electromyograph,
an instrument which registers the degree of muscular control through
variations in audible tone. Muscular relaxation is rewarded by
a low tone ("Low tone becomes synonymous with the therapist's
smile"). (Cataldo, M.,1978). This is the technique of biofeedback,
which has proved valuable in alleviating conditions such as poor
circulation in the limbs, muscular tension, epilepsy and various
stress-related symptoms. It works through a combination of self-monitoring
of physiological functions (blood pressure, muscle tension, brain
wave activity, temperature, etc.) and an enhanced sense of self-control
and mastery. (Pew,T.,1979). For helplessness, learned self-helpfulness.
One of the chief reasons why such a system and other "consciousness-raising" techniques are antithetical to the animal experimentation I have been reviewing in this chapter is their emphasis on reflective thought in contrast to the quick, kneejerk response exacted by classical conditioning. Animals subjected to electric shock, to a painful stimulus, have little time for reflection! Animal psychologists, perhaps unconsiously still stuck at the Cartesian animal-as-machine level, seem to deny their animal subjects the time to think, the ability to reason and the capacity to feel. It takes an experiment on humans to jolt psychologists of this type out of their mental rut.
For example, Turner and Soloman subjected 59 Harvard and M.I.T. students to foot shock to the right ankle, painful "to the limit of the subject's endurance." There were various ways different groups of students could avoid the shock: one, the quickest and most reflex-like, a movement of the big toe of the right foot; another, the slowest and most "reflective," sliding a knob back and forth. The toe movement group generally failed to learn that this was the way of avoiding shock: the movement was too quick and reflex-like for them to notice it and they viewed the shock as uncontrollable. Those with the knob readily learned that this was a successful avoidance response. (Turner, L.,1962, p.95).
This experiment has helped investigators to understand why rats and dogs escape from a painful electric shock more successfully when they are allowed to become aware of the connection between their behavior and the avoidance of shock - in other words, when there is time for feedback to be received and to reinforce the avoidance maneuver.
It all seems a long way around. Since we are primarily interested in ourselves, not as "king-sized rats," but as humans, why not cut out the rats and concentrate on the Harvard students (if the latter are still willing)?
1. For deprivation experiments specifically on primates,
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2. Rabbit characters in Watership
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