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Last set of comments for TA

  1. http://statisticsbyrachel.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/the-drawbacks-of-laboratory-experiments/#comment-75
  2. http://jaocpsychblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/why-do-we-use-longitudinal-studies/#comment-32
  3. http://pumpkinqueenme.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/is-the-use-of-animals-in-research-ethical/#comment-88
  4. http://sewbg.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/the-influence-of-culture-on-research-in-psychology/#comment-22
  5. http://columsblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/making-the-case-for-more-field-experiments/#comment-78
  6. http://statsbloggy.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/can-correlation-show-causality/#comment-50
  7. http://ellislee15.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/can-we-trust-an-eyewitness-testimony/#comment-76

Comments 3 & 4 are still awaiting moderation. I have saved these comments and can email you them if they have still not been moderated when they are getting marked, my psu is psucfe is this happens.

Thanks for marking all my blogs and comments (I know they are long – sorry!) 🙂

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An evaluation of the observational methodology within psychological research.

Researchers often prefer to directly observe an individual’s behaviour rather than asking them questions about it. A preferred method allowing the researcher to do so is the naturalistic observation. This refers to scientists observing individuals in their common, natural surroundings and engaging in their everyday behaviour (Pellegrini, 1996). The researchers do not manipulate variables or interfere with things; instead they try to remain inconspicuous. The situation is not manipulated or controlled by the investigator and the situation has not been created or initiated by the investigator and therefore this research method is also referred to as an observation without intervention.

Specific to developmental psychology, this observation involves visiting a child’s home, school, nursery, public-park or playgrounds and carefully recording a child’s behaviour. It is uncommon for a researcher to intrinsically record every event that occurs instead, they test a specific hypothesis concerning one type of behaviour. An example would be aggression and researchers would focus their attention to and collect data on acts of aggression such as hitting and kicking.

Researchers may employ several differential techniques to collect data from naturalistic observations. This may involve writing down the frequencies of a certain behavior occurred in a specific amount of time, or filming a video recording of the subjects of interest. The three main methods utilized are as follow:

  • Tally chart – the observer notes down when and how many times a certain behavior occurs.
  • Observer narrative – the observer might write down notes during the observation and then refer back to these later to collect data on behavioral patterns.
  • Audio/video recordings – depending on the type of behavior being recorded the observer may record footage of the observation session.

As it is not feasible to observe every moment or aspect of a subject’s life, observational researchers often use sampling in order to gather information through naturalistic observations. The ultimate aim is to ensure the sample of data is representative of the subject’s overall behaviour. There are two main techniques in order to obtain a representative sample:

  • Time sampling – this consists of taking samples at different intervals of time. This can either be systematic or random.
  • Situational sampling – this involves observing an individual’s behaviour in a variety of settings.

One example of a naturalistic observation comes from Ginsburg and Miller (1982). They investigated sex differences in children’s risk taking behaviour due to the common belief males are more risk taking than females. Researchers wished to study this behavior in the real world rather than the laboratory and therefore observed children in the zoo. They operationally defined risk-taking and measured it in four ways:

  1. riding an elephant
  2. petting a donkey
  3. feeding animals
  4. climbing a steep wooden bridge

Researchers recorded the number of boys and girls engaging in behaviors classed as risky. They found that boys engaged in risk-taking behaviours more frequently than girls.

The main advantage of naturalistic observations is that they illustrate how an individual actually behaves in their natural environment as part of everyday life (Willems & Alexander, 1982). In other words, it allows observation of behaviour as it exactly occurs in the real world. Furthermore, this observation retains an element of ecological validity as the situation being observed exists within the natural ecology of the individual. Naturalistic observations also help to establish external validity of the findings. As the behaviour observed is real life it is easier for the researchers to generalise their findings to the general population. Additionally, they provide rich information compared to other research methods such as laboratory experiments as an individual can be observed in various social settings rather than in the artificial lab one.

Penultimately and more specific to developmental psychology, naturalistic observations can be applied to special populations such as young infants and toddlers who have not yet developed the verbal repertoire needed for other research methods including interviews and questionnaires. Finally, ethical guidelines may prohibit the manipulation of specific variables however; it may be possible to observe such conditions as they occur naturally such as reactions to traumatic stress. It would be unethical to cause such events to occur for the purposes of experimentation however, you can observe the results from events when they naturally occur.

However, there are many objections against this research method. Firstly, some behaviour types occur so rarely (such as heroic rescues) or are so socially undesirable (theft) that the observer is unlikely to witness this behaviour in the time they are conducting their observation. Secondly, in a natural setting several events usually happen at the same time and any of these events can affect how an individual behaves. This weakens the internal validity as there is concern in precisely pinpointing the causes of participant’s behaviour or of any developmental trends. A problem with the naturalistic observation is that there is no experimental control over the circumstances therefore whilst correlation cannot be shown; cause and effect cannot be established. The credit assignment problem suggests that just because variable X correlates with variable Y this does not infer that X is the cause of Y. Gentile and Anderson (2003) suggest there may be a third unmeasured variable that is the cause of the behaviour observed. There is also a problem with directionality. It is difficult to conclude which variable causes which behaviour. Instead of X causing Y, it may be that Y in fact is the cause of X.

Scientists are reluctant to rely on naturalistic observations as the presence of an observer can result in individuals behaving differently than they normally would, this refers to the issue of reactivity. For example, children may show off in front of an audience and parents may act differently with their children. Reactivity is extremely likely to occur when the participants expectations of what the experiment is about can change their responses to the demands of the situation. An example is The Hawthorne Effect (Homans, 1965). Women employees of a factory participated in a study of worker productivity and in specific, which working conditions resulted in highest levels of productivity. Productivity was measured through the number of telephone relays that were assembled each day. Researchers collected a baseline measure of productivity before changing the working conditions and measuring the change in performance. Each time the working conditions were changed, performance increased. It was proposed that such results were found as the workers knew that they were being studied and that they were aware investigators were searching for methods to increase productivity. The workers tried hard to do their best so they could give the researchers the results they were looking for.

Orne (1962) identified a type of participant reactivity known as demand characteristics. These extraneous variables occur when people do their best to comply with what they perceive to be the demands of the observation and they try to guess what is expected from them. In contrast, some participants do the opposite of what they think is expected. Orne also identified another participant reactivity known as evaluation apprehension where by the concern experienced on behalf of the participants that they are being judged can alter their behaviour.

Weber & Cook (1972) identified four social roles of participants in observations that threaten the validity.

  1. Good Subject Role – the subject tries to validate the anticipated result (e.g. give the experiment the result they are hoping for).
  2. Faithful Subject role – participant attempts to be completely honest and faithful despite anticipating the expected result.
  3. Negativistic Subject role – the subject purposely produces responses or behaviour that is in the opposite direction of the anticipated result.
  4. The Apprehensive Subject role – participant experiences feelings of uncomfort as they were wary of being evaluated by the experimenter. As a result of this evaluation apprehension, the subject makes a conscious effort to behave in a socially desirable way in avoidance of appearing in a bad or unfavourable light.

These social roles highlight the threats to internal validity as these demand characteristics prevent observational researchers measuring what they intended to measure. Furthermore, it has been proposed that human-beings have a predisposition towards self-enhancement and maintaining positive about themselves at the cost of being unrealistic (Fiske & Taylor, 1999).

To overcome the huge flaw of such reactivity researchers have developed strategies to ensure they maintain the validity. One attempt to minimize observer influences is by videotaping participants from a concealed location such as a one way mirror as seen in Ainsworth’s Strange Situation (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978).

Secondly, observers may spend time in the setting before conducting their observation and collecting real data so that the participants become used to the observers presence and this does not affect their behaviour.

Observational researchers may also use the single blind procedure to reduce demand characteristics. Participants are given a false account of the observational aim so that those being observed do not discover clues to the nature of the experiment. However, this can be problematic as full informed consent cannot be obtained. For example, Sherif (1935) explained to participants that they were taking part in an auto kinetic test however; they were actually participating in a social influence experiment therefore participants did not consent to the experiment. It is important to remember that if participants were aware of the true hypothesis the results would not have been valid therefore researchers deemed it appropriate to involve deception.

Expectancy on behalf of the observer may also inadvertently affect the results gained from observations. The main issue is observer expectancy where by the observers expectations alter the behaviour of the participants as demonstrated by Rosenthal (1966). A proposal to this problem is a double blind procedure where by neither the observer or subjects know what hypothesis is being tested however, this often impractical within observations. Another issue on behalf of the observer is that different researchers may draw different conclusions from the same witnessed behaviours therefore it is important that the behaviours are operationalised (clearly categorised so researchers are aware of behaviour types).

As discussed earlier, researchers may record footage of participants being observed. However, some ethical issues may arise from doing so and researchers need to ensure the confidentiality of the research participants and ensure that such data can be destroyed if the participant wishes to withdraw from the experiment.

With regards to the limitations of natural experiments, researchers may conduct structured observations in order to study unusual or undesirable behaviours that are unlikely to occur in the natural environment. A structured observation takes place in a laboratory (an artificial setting) and participants are presented with situations and exposed to settings that may trigger the behaviour of investigation and is then observed via a hidden camera or through a one-way mirror to see if the individual performs the behaviour. For example, Kuczynski (1983) got infants to promise to help him in a boring task and then left the children alone to work in a room where desirable toys were present and available. This particular research procedure enabled researchers to determine whether or not the children would break their promise.

An advantage of the structured observation is that they ensure each and every participant in the experiment is exposed to the same eliciting stimuli therefore each participant has an equal opportunity to perform the behaviour and this cannot always be done in a natural observation. However, a major drawback of this type of observation is that participants may not always behave the same way in a laboratory as they would in an everyday life setting therefore, this threatens the internal validity. Furthermore, due to the artificial and controlled environment the results are difficult to generalise to the rest of the population.

In conclusion, whilst observational studies provide a rich and detailed account of the behaviours individuals engage in (rather than say what they behave in) they may be biased by both the participants and researchers expectations which prove to be a threat to the internal validity of this research method. Furthermore, due to a lack of control in naturalistic observations it is difficult to establish cause and effect.

References

  1. Pellegrini, A. D. (1996). Observing children in their natural worlds: A methodological primer. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  2. Sex differences in children’s risk-taking behavior. Ginsburg, H. J., & Miller, S. M. (1982). Child Development, 53, 426-428
  3. Willems, E. P. & Alexander, J. L. (1982). The naturalistic perspective in research. In B.B. Wolman (Ed.), Handbook of developmental psychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  4. Gentile, D.A. and Anderson, C.A. (2003). Violent video games: the newest media violence hazard. In D. A. Gentile (Ed.) Media violence and children.
  5. http://www.forskarskolan-mit.nu/mit/files/documents/forskning/pub/pub_hansson%20&%20wigblad%202003.pdf
  6. Orne, M.T. (1962). On the social psychology of the psychological experiment: With particular
  7. reference to demand characteristics and their implications. American Psychologist, 17, 776-783.
  8. http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CE4QFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fpsycnet.apa.org%2Fjournals%2Fpsp%2F38%2F6%2F857.pdf&ei=zXhvT_ykO8Kr0QXV6fSNAg&usg=AFQjCNHl3bRvqo1VwKYt_6MF9dmOLlSuAA&sig2=13L2jjshlXKBw7Vdre5_nQ
  9. Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social cognition (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
  10. http://www.psychology.sunysb.edu/attachment/online/inge_origins.pdf
  11. http://www.simplypsychology.org/conformity.html
  12. Rosenthal R. Experimenter effects in behavioral research. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1966. 464 p.
  13. Kuczynski, L. (1983). Reasoning, prohibitions, and motivations for compliance. Developmental Psychology. 19, 126-134.   

Comments for TA, (14/03/2012)

Here are the comments I have made this week:-

  1. http://ruthtanti.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/sem-2-4-effects-of-tv-on-children/#comment-71
  2. http://repugh18.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/is-it-ethical-for-animals-to-be-used-in-research/#comment-32
  3. http://ellislee15.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/so-what-is-the-difference-between-a-case-study-and-a-single-case-design-blod-due-190212/#comment-59
  4. http://psucf0.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/covert-participant-observations-are-they-too-sneaky/#comment-52
  5. http://psychmja1.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/laboratory-vs-natural/#comment-45
  6. http://psud77.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/the-use-of-non-human-animals-in-modern-psychology/#comment-40
  7. http://statisticsbyrachel.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/the-longitudinal-developmental-research-design/#comment-72

Thankyou. 🙂

The issues of research into attachment.

Attachment is defined as the emotional bond between a baby and care-giver shown in their behaviour. There are two main explanations of attachment; behavioural theory and Bowlby’s evolutionary perspective. Learning theory focuses on the rewards provided by caregivers to infants in terms of food and warmth and relates to operant and classical conditioning. Bowlby’s evolutionary theory focuses on adaptation advantages of attachment in order to ensure that babies survive. The theories of attachment have been extensively researched however previous studies have relied upon non-human animals, self-report measures, retrospective studies and observations questioning the validity of research within this field.

Harlow and Harlow (1962)1 studied the formation of attachment in infant monkeys. Monkeys were placed into a cage with two wire mesh cylinders. One cylinder was bare and provided the monkey with milk. The second cylinder was covered in towelling acting as a form of comfort. The researchers investigated whether the monkeys would spend more time on the bare cylinder that provided milk (behavioural theory) or the towelled cylinder that provided a secure and comforting base (Bowlby’s theory). Researchers found that the monkeys spent more time on the towel cylinder and therefore concluded that infants need a responsive carer in order to form attachment as food alone is not sufficient. However, the validity of such research is flawed by using a non-human animal sample. Generalising the results from one species to another is extremely difficult; especially from animals to humans. Critics have argued that evolutionary and physiological similarities are not significant enough to justify generalizing results between animals and humans (Koestler, 1970)2. Throughout evolution each species has adapted to gain survival within its own niche by evolving its own unique sets of behaviours that will not be useful to other species. Specific to this experiment, the behaviour shown by monkeys may not generalise to human infants. Also, several ethical issues arise from this research as the methodology caused disturbance to infant monkeys by separating them from their mothers resulting in psychological distress for both the infant monkey and mother.

In other research Schaffer and Emerson (1964)3 reported 39% of infants were not securely attached to the person who brought them food thus contradicting the learning theory and supporting Bowbly. However, this research has low external validity as the sample were Glaswegian working class single mothers and therefore, we cannot be sure that results generalise to other cultures or cases where social economic status and family circumstances are different. Additionally, there is low internal validity as data collection relied on mothers recording information about their babies in diaries. The mothers were likely to be extremely preoccupied with child care duties therefore the data may not have been accurate.

An important aspect of Bowlby’s theory of attachment is the continuity hypothesis; he proposed if a child gained a secure attachment they would be able to form successful adult relationships. Hazan and Shaver (1987)4 found a relationship between early attachment styles and later attitudes towards romantic love. They devised a ‘love quiz’ that assessed participant’s attachment type and style of romantic love. Measure of attachment style was a simple adjective checklist of childhood relationships with parents and the measure of love and experience assessed individual’s beliefs of romantic love. The quiz was printed in a local newspaper and readers were asked to send in their responses. This methodology has many limitations. Firstly, the measure of attachment was collected retrospectively. Research into memory suggests that an individual’s recollection of past events is not reliable due to cognitive biases therefore; it seems unlikely that participant’s memory of childhood experiences will be accurate and this refers to low internal validity. Secondly, the data was collected through questionnaires. Self-report measures are subject to distortion and prone to demand characteristics. Participants may have not responded with truthful answers by presenting themselves in a desirable way rather than telling their true feelings. Research demonstrates participants respond more positively about themselves due to distorted perceptions about the self (John & Robins, 1994)5 and have a predisposition towards self-enhancement and maintaining positive attitudes about themselves at the cost of being unrealistic (Fiske & Taylor, 1999)6. Thirdly, the sample was biased as participants were volunteers. Only certain types of people read newspapers and complete and send in questionnaires therefore this research has low external validity as results may not generalise to the population. Finally, this research shows a correlation between child attachment style and adult relationship experience however causation cannot be shown. There has been a third variable suggested by Kagan (1984)7. He proposed the temperament hypothesis; children with a pleasant disposition are more likely to form positive relationships with parents and later in life, assuming they maintain their ‘niceness’, will form more loving relationships.

Ainsworth set up the Strange Situation (SS) (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978)8; an experimental procedure in order to observe the variety of attachment forms exhibited between mothers and infants. The experiment was conducted in a small room with one way glass so the behaviour of the infant can be observed. The procedure goes as follows;

The researchers investigated four categories;

  1. Exploration – how much infants explored the unfamiliar room
  2. Separation behaviour – how much the infant reacted when the mother left
  3. Stranger anxiety – the response of the infant to the stranger
  4. Reunion behaviour – how the infant reacted when the mother returned

From the study, Ainsworth identified three types of attachment behaviour shown by the infants. The categories are summarised in the table below:-

Ainsworth’s conclusion that the SS can be used to identify the child’s attachment type has been criticized on the grounds that it lacks validity. In terms of lacking internal validity the mothers were likely to have behaved differently with their child in the study than they would have at home as they knew they were being observed, this refers to evaluation apprehension (a type of demand characteristic that frequently occurs in observational research). Secondly, the SS fails to acknowledge the child’s temperament and the effect this has on attachment style. Kagan proposed the temperamental hypothesis; temperaments are described as differences in babies that are inbuilt and visible from birth. Some infants are easy however, some are slow to warm up and this may affect attachment style. Ainsworth’s explanation for differences in attachment depended upon the sensitivity of the mother. However, a meta-analysis conducted by De Wolff et al9 found a weak correlation between sensitivity and attachment style. Additionally, the SS means different things to different children which again question the internal validity. Different childhood experiences prior to the experiment such as attending nursery, separation from the mother, multiple attachments and playing in different environments may affect how the child was classified. For example, a child who has attended day care may have shown signs of insecure avoidant attachment due to previous experience even though they are securely attached.

In terms of low external validity, the study only measures attachment style between the mother and the infant however; other research illustrates that children may have different types of attachment to fathers or grandparents (Lamb, 1977)10. Other research shows children can develop secure sibling attachments (Koluchova 1976)11. This means the SS lacks validity, as it is not measuring general attachment style, but instead an attachment style specific to the mother. Main & Weston (1981)12 found that children behaved differently in the SS depending on whether they were with their mother or father. Furthermore, the sample used in the study was biased as it only used 100 middle class American families. Therefore, it is difficult to generalize the findings outside of America and to working class families. It has been questioned whether the study measures attachment or the response to the SS. Critics have argued that the SS lacks ecological validity due to the unfamiliar nature of the playroom. Bronfenbrenner (1979)13 raised the issue of ecological validity as she found that attachment appeared stronger when the SS procedure was conducted in the family home (a natural environment).

Van Ijzendoorn et al14 conducted a meta-analysis of cultural variations in attachment using the SS. They used Ainsworth’s classifying system and found large differences between cultures. The results are shown in the graph below:-

However, Golding (2002)15 argues child rearing practices within cultures are huge demand characteristics in the research which significantly reduce internal validity. For example, Japanese babies are rarely separated from their mothers and this explains why they reacted violently with tears during separation leading them to be classed as insecure resistant when they are not. Also, babies brought up in Israel are rarely exposed to strangers which explains their violent protests to strangers in the SS. Furthermore, the sample of the meta analysis may not be representative as 27 studies were carried out in individualistic cultures (where independence is encouraged) and only 5 in collectivist cultures (a higher degree of interdependence).

The SS also has serious ethical implications. When testing separation behaviour and stranger anxiety the child was likely to suffer from severe ‘anxiety’ and psychological distress. As a result, anxiety was probably inflicted onto the mother when she saw her child in severe distress. It was even noted that the children classed as insecure resistant cried and screamed violently!

It seems that research into attachment, especially the SS is severely flawed by the validity of such methodologies. Current research lacks external validity due to studies using specific samples (in terms of culture, social economic status and species) and focusing on attachments between a baby and the mother (in the SS) making it extremely difficult to generalise the findings across the population. Research also lacks internal validity due to cognitive biases in retrospective studies and demand characteristics in self-report and observational methods. Specific to the SS a child’s rearing practices or experiences act as demand characteristics which lower the internal validity. Finally, when carrying out investigations within attachment researchers should adopt a sensitive approach to avoid causing any psychological distress to both human and non-human animal samples.

References

  1. http://www.brain-freeze.co.uk/files/Attachment.pdf
  2. http://www.integratedsociopsychology.net/Animals_in_Research/Ratomorphism-ArthurKoestler1970.html
  3. http://psychology4a.com/attachments_in_development.htm
  4. http://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm
  5. John, O. P., & Robins, R. W. (1993). Determinants of interjudge agreement on
    personality traits: The Big Five domains, observability, evaluativeness, and
    the unique perspective of the self. Journal of Personality, 61, 521-551
  6. Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social cognition (2nd ed.). New York:
    McGraw Hill.
  7. http://psychology4a.com/attachments_in_development.htm
  8. http://www.psychology.sunysb.edu/attachment/online/inge_origins.pdf
  9. https://www.google.co.uk/#hl=en&pwst=1&sa=X&ei=hShdT5eUAsr-8QPXi9XsDg&ved=0CB0QvwUoAQ&q=De+Wolff+et+al+sensitivity&spell=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=b69950e9ef79f4b8&biw=1366&bih=673
  10. http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=1&cts=1331505326764&ved=0CC0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fpsycnet.apa.org%2Fjournals%2Fdev%2F13%2F6%2F637%2F&ei=rChdT5L1LM7Y8QOlo7z_Dg&usg=AFQjCNEAsUuO2Oehpcvn9rpmCcAWfYLRAQ&sig2=0k00mQ8Y7qSj_l4SfT0tCA
  11. http://psychology4a.com/attachments_in_development.htm
  12. http://www.nickoh.com/emacs_files/psychology/21-Nov-2002.htm
  13. http://pt3.nl.edu/paquetteryanwebquest.pdf
  14. http://www.psychology.sunysb.edu/attachment/vitae/vanij02_cv.pdf
  15. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213404000808

Comments for TA, semester 2/week 5

I’m not sure why but when I was writing my comments this week I had to keep changing my username and logging out and logging back in. Some of my comments are under the name of; joshua, psychjs1 and Research Methods and Statistics but they are all my comments made on the same wordpress account. Hope this is ok!

  1. http://cashy3.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/47/#comment-63
  2. http://uzumakiabby.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/self-report-measures-tell-me-about-yourself/#comment-61
  3. http://psucd2.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/placebo-effect/#comment-50
  4. http://psud43.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-case-studies/#comment-43
  5. http://psuca7stats.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/are-longitudinal-studies-worth-carrying-out/#comment-29
  6. http://jaocpsychblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/to-what-extent-are-our-mental-health-diagnoses-valid/#comment-25
  7. http://hls92.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/can-correlation-show-causality/#comment-73

thanks. 🙂

The issues of generalising results from animal studies.

Dog owners often look like their pets – but does this mean they are the same?

Some psychologists choose to conduct research on non-human animals for numerous reasons. It is a well believed phenomenon that human beings and non-human animals have high enough similarities in terms of physiology and evolutionary past which justifies drawing conclusions from one species onto the other. Research using non-human animal subjects is extremely common within many areas of psychology for example; addictive behaviours (Caine et al, 2007)1, aggression (Raleigh et al, 1991)2, biological rhythms (DeCoursey et all, 2000)3, classical conditioning (Pavlov, 1927)4, eating behaviour (Zhang et al, 1994)5 and operant conditioning (Skinner, 1947)6. For example, several theories of behaviorism were established from experiments carried out on animals as researchers were able to gain a high level of control and objectivity. Pavlov first discovered the concept of classical conditioning (or pavolvian conditioning) whilst experimenting on the salivation reflexes in a non-human sample of dogs. In his experiment, Pavolv reported that dogs salivated as a direct response to stimuli associated with food such as a bowl as well as the unconditioned stimuli itself (food). This initiated the development of his ground breaking study which involved pairing a bell (neutral stimulus) with the food (an unconditioned stimulus) to produce a salivation response to the bell when presented alone (Pavlov, 1927).

Additionally, Skinner developed his Skinner box in order to systematically investigate the concept of operant conditioning (the basic process by which operant learning occurs). Within his experiment, animals performed such behaviors as pecking desks (in pigeons) and pressing control levers (in rats) which then resulted in differential reinforcing or punishing consequences. From such research Skinner concluded that these consequences (e.g. reinforcement and punishment) help shape human behavior and are strong predictors of behavior shown by humans (Skinner, 1947). Such research findings have been generalized to the human population and have contributed to theories of human behaviour and ultimately led to the development of several very successful behavioral interventions such as applied behavior management which is frequently applied within clinical psychology. The behavioural theory has been applied to several psychological disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Using classical conditioning, OCD is explained by a particular neutral stimulus becoming associated with anxiety (Mowrer, 1960)7. Due to the initial study involving animals by Pavlov, other researchers have built convincing explanations of human behaviour and behavioral interventions. In the case of OCD the behavioural therapy of Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) was introduced. ERP has shown to be an effective treatment for OCD with between 60-90% of patients improving from this therapy (Albucher et al, 1998)8. Such high effective rates (Foa & Kozak, 1996)9 in shaping human behaviour justify generalizing results from animal experiments on to humans. However, this therapy is not effective and appropriate for all patients (Gerhuny et al, 2002)10.

Many theorists have criticized both the practical and methodological procedures of animal research and many refer to the issue of generalizability. In other words, generalising the results gained from experimentation from one species to another is extremely difficult, especially findings from animal research onto the human population. Although some believe that the similarities in terms of physiology and evolutionary past justify generalising results on to humans others do not agree. Throughout our evolutionary history every species has had to adapt to gain survival within their own different civilisations and. As a result of such survival strategies each species has evolved their own unique sets and standards of behaviours that will not be useful to other species and may result in an extinction of a particular species. In short, each species has their own unique behaviours to ensure reproductive success.

Koestler (1970)11 has coined the term “ratmorphism” when referring to generalising results from experiments using rats on to human beings. Morphine has been reported to show a calming effect on human beings and also on rats too. In contrast, morphine results in series of mania phases in other species such as mice and cats therefore highlighting the huge differences between species and illustrating that generalising results from different species can be a very serious and intricate issue within the field of research methods.12 Throughout the history of animal testing there have been examples of the serious implications of generalizing results from animal experiments demonstrating the limitations of usefulness and appropriateness within animal research. In the 1950’s Thalidomide was tested on animals and subsequently prescribed to pregnant women to reduce and prevent the symptom of morning sickness13. The studies that tested Thalidomide using non-human samples such as rats, cats, mice and dogs revealed no harmful effects or signs of toxicity on these subjects and therefore the drug was prescribed to pregnant patients suffering from morning sickness. However, scientists were soon to realize harmful effects of generalizing results from animal research and subsequently prescribing the drug to human beings as approximately 10,000 babies were born with severe birth defects such as phocomelia (the abnormal or stunted limb growth) due to Thalidomide.

In the recent times, animal testing has often been used as what is known as a precursor to human clinical trials. In biological terms there are significant brain differences between humans and non-human animals. Studies have shown that mice and rats have a smaller neocortex to brainstem volume ratio. In primates, the neocortex is slightly bigger; however there are significant differences in the proportions in human beings.14 Thus, these differences in neurology suggest that research findings in an animal brain cannot be automatically generalized to human brains. An in-depth understanding and awareness of the limitations of generalizability is extremely important, if not vital, to researchers looking to extend the results gained from animal studies to humans.

The issue of low ecological and external validity of experiments carried out in a laboratory setting is not only proven tricky with research on humans, it is just as much as an issue with animals. An animal’s behaviour when caged in a laboratory, in a very artificial setting, is bound to be very different to the behaviour the animal shows in the wild and in its natural habitat. In experiments, when confined and kept under control (sometimes physical control) animals tend to develop certain abnormal behaviours not shown in a real life setting such as pacing and self-mutilation. Furthermore, certain other behaviours such as mating might possibly become inhibited for example in Giant Pandas. Animals are not used to interacting with humans in the wild however, when in experimental conditions they are often within close physical contact with humans and therefore bound to change behaviour.

An obvious, yet important point to make is that animals do not possess a language. The fact that language is such a huge part of human socialisation and everyday life this sets humans apart from other species. Language allows for a much greater level of communication both between individuals and across cultures and generations. As a result of language, humans are aware of and have extensive knowledge of both the successes and failures of the history of civilisation. In complete contrast, animals have extremely limited cross-cultural transmission between different generations.

All in all, generalisation from animals to humans can be useful as shown by the effectiveness of behavioural therapies yet it is a very dangerous generalisation to make. From such disastrous effects as previously shown by Thalidomide researchers should make an effort to comprehensively understand the limitations of generalizing from such experiments. Experiments have revealed systematic differences in terms of physiology and psychologically between (and sometimes within) species such as the side effects of drugs, brain sizes and attachment styles. On a final note, always be aware that the results from animal experiments may not be applicable to human behavior as due to language we are much more advanced. However, animal studies are sometimes useful.

References

1 http://www.jneurosci.org/content/27/48/13140.full.pdf

2 http://www.flyfishingdevon.co.uk/salmon/year2/aggression/aggression.html

3 http://www.google.co.uk/#hl=en&output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=DeCoursey+et+all%2C+2000+biological+rhytyms&pbx=1&oq=DeCoursey+et+all%2C+2000+biological+rhytyms&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=3&gs_upl=185l4256l0l4362l20l20l0l0l0l0l255l3275l0.14.5l19l0&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=5ae18919d85be997&biw=1366&bih=673

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning

5 http://www.diabesity.eu/Leptin.htm

6 Skinner, B. F. (1947). Superstition in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 168-72.

7 http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=JSfnCPlEFygC&pg=PA168&lpg=PA168&dq=Mowrer,+1960+ocd&source=bl&ots=4xZsXtq3Q8&sig=VrY5o-nilWPaq6a24Flcghqn4Ek&hl=en&sa=X&ei=qGpBT7LRJILP0QWkuvWODw&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Mowrer%2C%201960%20ocd&f=false

8, 9, 10 http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=q_Cp_fURG28C&pg=PA216&lpg=PA216&dq=Albucher+et+al,+1998+ocd&source=bl&ots=nhpLZI_rLm&sig=aUCjEuICHHHprZM18q14ciAcw1E&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3mpBT7O3MaKf0QXx7ImPDw&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Albucher%20et%20al%2C%201998%20ocd&f=false

11 http://www.integratedsociopsychology.net/Animals_in_Research/Ratomorphism-ArthurKoestler1970.html

12 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/392758/morphine

13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalidomide

14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neocortex

Homework for TA – Comments for semester 2/week 3

  1. http://esh2.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/case-studies/#comment-44
  2. http://whoblogsstatistics.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/is-it-ethical-to-use-animals-in-experiments/#comment-19
  3. http://psychrno.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/within-subject-design/#comment-32
  4. http://statisticsbyrachel.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/moral-justification-and-ethical-issues-with-non-human-animals/#comment-50
  5. http://serenapsychology.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/62/#comment-46
  6. http://spearmint123.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/the-stanford-prison-experiment/#comment-29
  7. http://pumpkinqueenme.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/naturalistic-observations-vs-lab-experiments/#comment-61

Thanks. 🙂