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Monkey drug trials 1969

Last week I found a list of the top ten unethical experiments that had been done throughout the many years of Psychology that involved humans and animals. Out of the list there was one such study that I found to be particularly interesting, and surprising that such an experiment was ever aloud to be conducted. This study was done by Deneau, Yanagita & Seevers (1969) and was known as the monkey drug trials.

The experiment was looking at the effects of self-administration of drugs by the monkey. In other words, whether a monkey would become addicted to drugs and as a result self-administer itself in order to maintain the drug abuse. The monkeys were first injected with drugs (some monkeys received cocaine, morphine and amphetamines) and researchers observed the behaviour afterwards, consequently the monkeys became dependent on the drugs. The experiment found that the biological traits were similar to that of humans, and results suggested that one of the key motivations for drug abuse was the psychological dependence. This experiment found the key reason why drug abuse takes place which can help researchers and physicians provide a psychological treatment which can help people with a drug addiction give up. As this kind of experiment cannot be done on humans, the only option for the researchers was to use monkeys. However, animals and humans are different and therefore findings on non-humans should be cautious when suggesting a similar trait can be found in humans. In some cases there can be many differences between animal behaviour and human behaviour, therefore results for one another cannot be generalised.

A classic example of this is the study looking at the effects of the drug thalidomide on morning sickness for pregnant women (as cited in Developmental Psychology, 2010). The study had tested the drug on rats and found there were no side effects caused from the drug and that the drug was effective in treating morning sickness. This drug was given to pregnant women, which alleviated the symptoms of nausea. However, when the women gave birth, there were serious abnormalities with their babies’ physical appearance. For instance, the babies would either have a absence of a limb or have limbs attached to their abdomen, and serious deformities in the eyes, heart, ears etc. This shows that whilst animals may not show effects to certain drugs, humans may, and therefore whenever experiments are being conducted on animals, researchers should not suggest that findings could be generalised to humans.

The monkeys trials were also highly unethical as the subjects suffered pain, withdrawal symptoms and in some cases died from an overdose. The Helsinki declaration was founded in 1964 and from there has been regularly updated on the principles of good practice. It first stated that, “the welfare of animals used for research must be respected”. This was the start of ethical guidance for non-human subjects. From here the APA ethical code added more guidance on the way animals should be treated and gave strict instructions for the grounds of when an experiment on animals is acceptable. For example animal research should not harm the animal or distress it on any way (APA). In this experiment, the monkeys would self-harm themselves (ie. Take chunks of fur off their abdomen when under the influence and in some cases the monkeys died) therefore under the APA ethical code, the researchers would be unethical and would not be allowed to conduct this experiment.

This experiment in my opinion is not useful to psychology, as it lacks ecological validity. Animals do not have the capability of administering drugs in the outside world, unless human interference trains them to self-administer. Although the results show a similarity in monkey and human behaviour in the self-maintaining of drugs, there is no real benefit to this finding and therefore the end does not justify the means.



APA guide.

Deneau. G., Yanagita. T., & Seevers. M. H. (1969). Self-administration of psychoactive substances by the monkey. Psychopharmacologia, 16, 30-48. Doi: 10.1007/BF00405254

Helsinki declaration.

Shaffer. D. R., & Kipp. K. (2010). Developmental psychology childhood and adolescence. 8th Edition. Wadsworth.


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4 thoughts on “Monkey drug trials 1969

  1. I agree particularly with your last point that even if a trial on animals was a success, there is no way of knowing what the consequences will be for humans. Hopkins (2007) talks of using human cell culture as an alternative to animal testing as the results are likely to be more valid for experimenting on whether a product is suited for humans.

    To focus on Deneau, Yanagita & Seever’s study itself, I can see the difficulty of finding a suitable experiment in 1969 to investigate drug addiction. When technology for experimenting on humans without causing any damage, animals would have been seen as the only alternative other than turning a non-drug using human into an addict. However, perhaps more research should have been done into already addicted humans for knowledge of self-administration and addiction.

    Hopkins, J.(2007) Special section: Monoclonal antibodies. Bloomberg School of Public Health.

  2. The issue of testing drugs on animals is important to consider, because of course we will not react to drugs the same way a monkey will. There are many cases such as that of thalidomide; one of these being Eraldin. This was a drug introduced in the 70s as a treatment for Angina (a heart condition). This had been tested repeatedly on animals and on humans. It was not until years later after it had been marketed that the side effects became clear. In some cases it caused blindness and dry eyes and even led to a condition where layers of tissue in the abdomen fused together. It was later taken off the market.

    Not even 2% of the diseases that occur in humans exist in animals. Most have to be caused in the animal for testing purposes, which in itself is surely a flaw. They have an unnatural disease in them, so the way the respond will probably be different to us, as they are not even built to have it. A massive 95% of drugs tested on animals never reach the market or further testing because they are harmful or useless to humans. Not only does this suggest it may be pointless using animals, but it also raises serious ethical concerns, as it results in so many abused animals dying in vain after a miserable life in a laboratory.

    The article that you analysed concerning monkeys is a shocking article. I think it seems completely pointless. Why on earth is it useful to us to know how monkeys will react to recreational drugs? It does not benefit research into human health in any way because we already know how humans react. They should have tried rehabilitating humans already addicted instead of ruining the life of innocent animals. Highly unethical and unnecessary, in my opinion!

  3. where/what country were the monkey drug trials in?

  4. germany

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