Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Learned Helplessness and Unethical Treatment of Animals (LTR Post 3)

I'm sure all of you who are reading this have heard of the backlash on the scientific community for testing on animals. I am also sure that the first thing that comes to mind are medicines or cosmetics. However, in reading about learned helplessness in our text, I found that the testing done by Seligman and Maier on dogs to be horrible and cruel. These psychologists were, in fact, suspending these dogs in harnesses and exposing them to either inescapable shock, escapable shock (in which the shock was terminated by pressing a lever with their snout), or no shock (the control group, as well as the lucky ones). Also, each dog in the escapable shock condition was paired up with a dog in the inescapable shock condition. This was so that when the one dog deactivated the shock for himself, it also deactivated it for their helpless partner. This, of course, was only phase one. The intent of the study was to look at learned helplessness, defined in our text as "decrement in learning ability that results from repeated exposure to uncontrollable aversive events".
In phase two of this unethical experiment, the psychologists set up a shutter avoidance test where the dogs had to learn to avoid shock by jumping over a barrier. Before each shock, they were exposed to a ten second period of darkness. Those dogs who were in the initial no-shock group learned quickly to jump over the barrier during the time of darkness, so as to avoid the shock entirely, along with the escapable shock group. However, the dogs in the inescapable shock condition ran around in distress at the shock, but finally laid down and took the shock. There was no effort made to avoid it. If they had jumped over the barrier, the shock would have stopped; and those who DID do so failed to repeat the action and discontinue the shock again.
This study is listed on websites such as listverse as one of the top ten unethical psychological experiments ever performed, along with the Stanford prison experiment and the Milgram Study. The American Psychological Association, as we all know, has guidelines for the ethical treatment of people in psychological experiments. They also have created, in the past 20 years, guidelines for the ethical treatment of animals. I encourage you all to read these guidelines, as they prevent unethical studies like Seligman and Maier's from occuring again.


Top 10 Unethical Psychological Experiments:
APA's Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Animals:

1 comment:

  1. This was indeed a horrible experiment to conduct. Learned helplessness is a horrible concept in the first place; so to recreate it in a lab is horrible and simply put - torture. I've learned about learned helplessness in many other courses, and never came across this study. I wonder if they left it out on purpose? Although this is such a depressing concept, I feel like it is important for people to understand what it is and how it effects those who suffer from it. Great, informative post!

    ReplyDelete