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Interesting new research on operant conditioning

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These are abstracts of recent studies on applied behavior and the neurologic impact of positive reinforcement training. Especially interesting to see that the stress hormones of lab animals trained with forceful or punitive methods skew research results. Positive reinforcement training not only makes it easier to work with and care for the animals, but keeps test results clean from physiologic stress.

Training captive chimpanzees to cooperate for an anesthetic injection.

Videan EN, Fritz J, Murphy J, Borman R, Smith HF, Howell S.
Primate Foundation of Arizona, PO Box 20027, Mesa, AZ 85277, USA.

Captive animals trained to cooperate with routine medical procedures, such as injections, may experience less aggression and anxiety than those forced to comply through the use of restraints. The authors used positive reinforcement training to teach captive chimpanzees to present a body part for anesthetic injection and determined the time investment necessary for initial training and duration of maintenance of the behavior after completion of the training.

Lab Anim (NY). 2005 May;34(5):43-8.

Training nonhuman primates to perform behaviors useful in biomedical research.

Schapiro SJ, Perlman JE, Thiele E, Lambeth S.

Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, Department of Veterinary Sciences, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 650 Cool Water Dr., Bastrop, TX 78602. sschapir [at] mdanderson [dot] org

Data collected from NHPs that are trained to participate voluntarily in husbandry, veterinary, and research procedures are likely to have particular value. The authors present the results of a series of studies that examined the effects of PRT on the performance by chimpanzees of a variety of biomedically relevant behaviors: presenting their perineum for pinworm testing, providing a semen sample, presenting for an s.c. injection, and presenting for an i.m. injection. The overall trends across studies indicate that PRT techniques have significant value in the handling and management of NHPs in many laboratory research settings, including less variability in the data collected and fewer potential confounding variables, which should lead to important refinements in the definition of NHPs as biomedical research models.

Lab Anim (NY). 2005 May;34(5):37-42.

Behavioral management of chimpanzees in biomedical research facilities: the state of the science.

Bloomsmith MA, Else JG.

Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.

The current status of the behavioral management of chimpanzees housed in US research facilities is examined, and recent advances are described. Behavioral management includes the application of environmental enrichment, animal training, and environmental design for improving animal welfare. Authors surveyed the six major chimpanzee holding facilities and found that the vast majority of chimpanzees are housed socially, with access to the outdoors. The institutions currently invest in behavioral scientists, enrichment specialists, and, most recently, chimpanzee trainers to implement and study chimpanzee behavioral management. This review is based on the substantial scientific literature related to managing social behavior, identifying the behavioral effects of restricted socialization, evaluating various forms of enrichment, and describing positive reinforcement animal training. Authors outline recent accomplishments in behavioral management, summarize behavioral issues that have been evaluated, and identify issues for future consideration. It is proposed that the enhanced application of behavioral management techniques, including training, could significantly reduce chimpanzee stress that is generally associated with experimental manipulations, and could improve animal welfare and the quality of biomedical research. The next challenge is to implement effectively and thoroughly the approaches that have been shown to be beneficial.

ILAR J. 2005;46(2):192-201.

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Gale Pryor is a writer and editor at Pen and Press, an editorial services and consulting company. Her writing credits include Parenting Magazine, Mothering Magazine, Teaching Dogs, National Public Radio, and two bestselling books.