Animal Research FAQ

Whitman College

Psychology Department


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Q: What kinds of animals does the department have?

A: The Psychology department houses pigeons (Columba livia) and rats (Rattus Norvegicus) in their animal facility in Maxey Hall. The pigeons are used in Wally Herbranson's comparative psychology research (click here to go to his lab page). Rats are used as an integral part of Psychology 390: Psychology of Learning (aka "Rat Lab").

Q: What are the housing conditions for animals?

A: Each animal is housed individually, in its own cage and has free access to water and (for pigeons) grit, in accordance with PHS policy on humane care and use of laboratory animals.

Q: Do you deprive animals of food or water?

A: Pigeons are maintained at 80% of their free-feeding weight. This keeps them motivated to work for food, and appears to be the best approxination of the weight of healthy wild birds. (see Poling, A., Nickel, M. & Alling, K. (1990). Free birds aren't fat: Weight gain in captured wild pigeons maintained under laboratory conditions. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 53, 423-424.)

Q: I've read about experiments where animals receive painful electric shocks. Do you use any aversive stimuli?

A: No. All of our experiments use only positive reinforcement (usually access to food). If an animal does not receive its full daily allotment of food during an experimental session, the appropriate amount of supplemental food is provided in its home cage.

Q: What about brain lesions or chemical injections?

A: No invasive procedures are used in the Department. All experiments are cognitive / behavioral and do not involve surgery or any other biological manipulations.

Q: What happens to animals after they are used? Do you euthanize them?

A: No. Animals are only euthanized on the recommendation of a veterinarian in the case of illness or some other health concern.

After each semester of Psychology 390, rats are given away as pets to students, school classrooms or community members. Any rats that are not adopted remain in our "enriched environment", a large enclosure with toys, exercise wheels and other rats. Click here to adopt a rat.

Since we do not use any invasive procedures, pigeons do not need to be sacrificed following their experiment. They are however, not viable in the wild. Therefore, birds remain in the lab and participate in further research or in pilot experiments.