Habituation and desensitization as methods for reducing fearful behavior in singly housed rhesus macaques

Authors

  • Andrea W. Clay,

    Corresponding author
    1. Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
    2. Center for Conservation and Behavior, School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
    • Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, 954 Gatewood Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30329
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  • Mollie A. Bloomsmith,

    1. Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
    2. Center for Conservation and Behavior, School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
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  • M. Jackson Marr,

    1. Center for Conservation and Behavior, School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
    2. School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
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  • Terry L. Maple

    1. Center for Conservation and Behavior, School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
    2. School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
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Abstract

Operant conditioning using positive reinforcement techniques has been used extensively in the management of nonhuman primates in both zoological and laboratory settings. This research project was intended to test the usefulness of counter-conditioning techniques in reducing the fear-responses of singly housed male rhesus macaques living in the laboratory environment. A total of 18 male rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) were selected for this project and randomly assigned to one of three groups: a desensitization training group, a husbandry training group, or a control group. Behavioral data were collected before and after a 6 weeks training and/or habituation period during which the first two groups received a total of 125 min of positive reinforcement training (and also were assumed to undergo habituation to the environment) and the control group experienced only simple habituation to the environment. Based on a Wilcoxon Matched-Pairs Sign Test, we found that a significant proportion of animals exposed to desensitization training showed a reduction in the rate at which they engaged in cringing toward humans (exact significance=0.016, one-tailed, N–ties=6), cringing in general (exact significance=0.016, one-tailed, N–ties=6), and in stress-related behaviors (exact significance=0.016, one-tailed, N–ties=6). This was not the case for animals exposed to basic husbandry training or animals in the control group. A significant proportion of desensitization-exposed animals also showed a reduction in the duration of time spent cringing toward humans (exact significance=0.016, one-tailed, N–ties=6), but not in cringing behaviors in general or in stress-related behaviors. There were not a significant proportion of animals in either the husbandry training group or the control group that showed a decrease in duration of these behaviors. Results of this study could enhance both laboratory animal welfare and laboratory animal research, and could be a first step in developing techniques for reducing fearful behavior in rhesus monkeys in the laboratory environment. Am. J. Primatol. 71:30–39, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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