The Psychology Dept studies rats, pigeons, and a NW monkey species, cotton top tamarins, as part of its teaching and research within the biological and behavioral processes area. Key faculty involved are Sarah Meerts, Julie Neiworth, and Larry Wichlinski. Psychology’s animal care manager is Aureliano Ciurlizza.
The Psychology Dept studies animals to answer several questions:
- How do animals learn, remember, and think about events?
- How is human thinking different from primate thinking? mammalian thinking? avian thinking?
- Can we determine how the brain supports various mental processes, including learning and memory, but also clinical conditions such as anxiety and depression?
The kind of research conducted using pigeons and monkeys does not involve any invasive procedure. That means that no surgery nor any medical intervention is used as part of a research project or as part of teaching in a lab. Julie Neiworth supervises all work with pigeons and monkeys, both in the teaching labs and in faculty-student collaborative research. Questions we have investigated include how primates and birds represent categories of objects, what they know about numbers of items, whether they recognize themselves as separate agents, whether they can represent objects in their absence, and whether they can learn from watching each other.
The animals in these studies are either studied in their natural environments in their home cages (as in all monkey work), or they are transported to operant chambers connected to computers to watch video images and respond (all pigeon work). In all cases, the animals can acquire extra food treats for participating, but they are not forced to do anything, and can choose not to participate and be returned to their home environments. We are strongly motivated to offer our animal subjects a healthy environment so that our study of their behavior typifies what they can do and how they think.
The research with rats with Sarah Meerts is focused on studying motivational behavior, and specifically sexual behavior. Her research sometimes involves minor surgeries (i.e., ovariectomies) and typically involves watching when mating behavior occurs and is influenced by hormonal levels.
Alternatively, the rat research typically includes some behavioral testing (like on a variety of mazes including a 12-arm maze, an open field sand maze, and a “t” maze) and an invasive component, which is usually an injection given in a way to produce very little discomfort, or a surgical manipulation. Both Julie Neiworth and Larry Wichlinski conduct research using rats in these ways, and Larry and Sarah supervises the teaching labs involving rats.
The invasive component allows us to alter particular kinds of brain processing to see its influence on learning and memory. We have investigated different agents which temporarily interfere with nMDA processing, for example, and have found out some exciting connections between nMDA receptors and cognitive function, which are related to Alzheimer’s disease.
We believe that allowing students access to live animals within our teaching enhances the learning of the materials significantly. Students not only gain direct experience about what it is like to be a scientist studying animals in comparative ways, but they also observe directly the phenomena in animals and humans that they read about in the text books. We often give surveys at the end of our courses to ask students about the necessity of using animals within our teaching, and we find that overwhelmingly students argue that the animal work helped them to learn the material, to study ideas directly, and to experience a field that they were interested in. Because we are a small institution, we can offer these experiences with students and have close monitoring over them so that the animals are treated very well throughout, and the students benefit greatly.
The next sections allow you to consider the ethics surrounding animal use, and familiarize yourself with our training for any psychology faculty, students, staff, or personnel who will be in contact with our animals. Please feel free to read about what we do, and how we care for our animal species by clicking on the various sections.
If you are wondering about the organization of the materials presented in training, we need to review particular issues that are important for any work with animals (including housing, husbandry, handling, security, and also health and safety issues, for example). These are topics specified by the USDA and other federal agencies to review to insure that the animals are well cared for and the humans contacting them are aware of any risks and can take appropriate action to reduce risks.
If you will be doing research using any of these animal species in a class, in comps, or as an independent study, or if you are employed to help care for these species, you must read the sections below on:
- Ethics, Emergencies and Evacuation, and
- species-specific training for the species with which you will work.
Faculty training is accomplished by reading:
- Ethics, Emergencies and Evacuation,
- the Faculty Basics section, and the
- species-specific training for relevant species.
Animal Care Workers and Animal Care Staff have the additional requirement of a passing grade on a training exam over the species-specific material in order to proceed and have contact with the animals.