Animal research in Psychology

June 19, 2016

Chapter Summary Explain what

A research monkey in captivity at twice its normal weightSome of my best friends are researchers. I'm one myself. So, yeah, this is a tough one to write. But I don't do animal research like this.

The New York Times just featured an article that described current research that uses monkeys to study obesity. It's more of the same. We perpetrate horrible acts on our animal kin under the auspices of science. What's worse, the article makes it all seem so normal.

Here's what's going on. Some researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center get monkeys very fat. The researchers feed them huge amounts of food, and keep them in cages without exercise for months and even years at a time. See the photo associated with this post. Many of the monkeys then get many of the diseases that fat people get, such as diabetes, and clogged arteries. The researchers study the diseases, and mechanisms for weight gain and weight loss. To that end, the researchers sometimes "kill some of the monkeys to examine their brains and pancreases."

What have they found? According to the New York Times article, they "found something ...that could be important for people - that eating a healthy diet during pregnancy reduced troubles in the offspring."

My response? They got to be kidding. They're telling us that it's good for the kids if a woman eats a healthy diet when pregnant. Is that new information to you? Or to anyone you know? They are ruining the lives of deeply feeling, highly social and intelligent, gorgeous primates so that they can tell us this? That's hard to accept.

Yeah, yeah, I know the researchers are learning other things about diabetes and so forth. But there's a deep contradiction in their research program. On the one hand, they are using these animals "because they resemble humans much more than laboratory rats do." But they don't recognize that that "resemblance" - that's a tricky word right there, because it makes it seem like monkeys are real enough to conduct research on but not really real - that resemblance brings with it the capacity for the animal to engage deeply in social life with their kin, and with us, and us with them.

In commenting on this New York Times article, Dr. Patricia Hasbach, a psychotherapist in Eugene, Oregon, writes: "We humans seem to have a deep pathology - a blindness - to the Other. I suspect it has something to do with our belief that we are the only species made ‘in God's image.'"

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