Bad Science and Bad Ethics: NIH’s Monkey Fright Experiments Have It All!

Published by PETA.

By Dr. Katherine Roe

National Institutes of Health (NIH) experimenter Elisabeth Murray has spent more than 40 years and over $50 million in taxpayer funds deliberately damaging monkeys’ brains. She then subjects them to crude and terrifying behavioral tests, including scaring them with realistic-looking plastic snakes and spiders. Most of us know Murray’s experiments are cruel and stupid. But now even monkey experimenters are questioning them.

A recent study published in Scientific Reports demonstrates what PETA has been saying for years: The artificial and impoverished living conditions inside a laboratory render the data being collected from these labs problematic. Scientists have known for years that caging monkeys alone increases the likelihood that they’ll engage in stereotypical and self-injurious behavior indicative of anxiety and depression—including pacing, rocking, pulling out their hair, and biting their flesh. Monkeys housed alone also show increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increased inflammation, and slower wound healing.

Despite this information, many experimenters—including Murray—continue to subject these highly intelligent and profoundly social animals to solitary confinement and then collect data from them, pretending that they’re healthy.

The authors of the Scientific Reports study state this:

Despite many decades of use in neuropsychological experiments, the social contexts in which adult monkeys live and the impacts that these contexts may have on behavioral responses in tasks commonly used to assess psychosocial behavior have historically gone unacknowledged.

In this recent study, experimenters with the California National Primate Research Center tested whether forcing monkeys to live in solitary confinement affected their behavior on tasks commonly used in monkey laboratories—including the human intruder test, in which caged monkeys are threatened by unfamiliar humans, and the object responsivity test, in which monkeys are presented with objects that are frightening to them, such as fake snakes and spiders.

The experimenters’ findings were hardly surprising: Forcing monkeys to live alone changed how they responded to threats. The authors hypothesize that social isolation causes “a depression-like state” in these animals, causing them to have blunted emotional responses.

The authors pointed out the following:

Many neuropsychiatric and behavioral neuroscience studies have used individually-housed monkeys, including studies probing the neural basis of socioaffective processing and of addiction or drug-seeking behaviors. Even studies intending to specifically address depression induced through means other than social isolation (e.g., administration of immune cytokines; social stress) and those intending to determine the impact of early social deprivation or stress, have all used at least some socially isolated subjects. In light of the findings we present here, the documented effects of these manipulations may be severely confounded by the impact of restricted social contact. [emphasis added]

Monkey experimenters like Murray and those at the national primate research centers routinely use the human intruder and object responsivity tests on monkeys to test whether their experimental manipulations—including brain damage, administration of illicit drugs, infliction of stress, and maternal deprivation (taking babies away from their mothers)—alter the monkeys’ response. The findings of the Scientific Reports study confirm what PETA has been saying all along: The socially deprived monkeys in Murray’s experiments aren’t healthy, and any results coming out of her laboratory are worthless.

Murray has spent her entire career damaging monkeys’ brains and claiming that the behavioral effects she sees tell us something about the brain. Many of the monkeys in her laboratory—including Beamish, Nick Nack, and Guinness—have spent decades in solitary confinement, pacing, rocking, and pulling out their hair. They’re going insane from the social isolation and lack of stimulation, but she justifies using them in her horrific experiments by claiming that damaging their brains will help us understand how a healthy brain works.

We already knew that Murray’s experiments couldn’t be justified ethically and haven’t led to any new treatments or cures for humans even after 40 years, but this new paper shreds NIH’s pathetic claims that her experiments are useful in helping us understand the brain.

Please tell NIH to end these worthless experiments now.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind