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Keywords:

  • positive reinforcement training;
  • temperament;
  • behavioral inhibition

Abstract

In recent years there has been a marked increase in awareness of issues involving the psychological well-being of nonhuman primates (NHPs) used in biomedical research. As a result, many facilities are starting to train primates to voluntarily cooperate with veterinary, husbandry, and research procedures, such as remaining still for blood draws or injections. Such training generally reduces the stress associated with these procedures, resulting in calmer animals and, ultimately, better research models. However, such training requires great investments in time, and there can be vast individual differences in training success. Some animals learn tasks quickly, while others make slower progress in training. In this study, we examined whether temperament, as measured by response to a novel food object, correlated with the amount of time it took to train 20 adult female rhesus macaques to perform a simple task. The monkeys were categorized as “exploratory” (i.e., inspected a novel object placed in the home cage within 10 sec), “moderate” (i.e., inspected the object within 10–180 sec), or “inhibited” (i.e., did not inspect the object within 3 min). We utilized positive reinforcement techniques to train the monkeys to touch a target (PVC pipe shaped like an elbow) hung on their cage. Temperament correlated with training success in this study (Pearson χ2=7.22, df=2, P=0.03). We easily trained over 75% of the animals that inspected the novel food (i.e., exploratory or moderate individuals) to touch the target. However, only 22% of the inhibited monkeys performed the task. By knowing which animals may not respond to conventional training methods, we may be able to develop alternate training techniques to address their specific needs. In addition, these results will allow us to screen monkeys to be assigned to research projects in which they will be trained, with the goal of obtaining the best candidates for those studies. Am. J. Primatol. 65:63–71, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.