The use of animals has been and is central to the advancement of psychology

INTERVIEW, Dr. Estrella Diaz Argandoña talks about how experimentation with animal models has led to a deeper understanding and therapies that treat many diseases.

Dr. Estrella Diaz Argandoña taught, among others, the subject ‘Animal Models for the Study of Psychological Disorders’ Master’s Degree in Advanced Studies in Brain and Behavior at the University of Sevilla. An essential knowledge within the Experimental Psychology, according to the results we see daily in the different fields of research. But what both mentally animals like us? How should they be for the results obtained with them can be extrapolated to humans? What are the most important experiment? Dr. Díaz Argandoña us solve these and other questions.

So much like us animals to extrapolate the results of certain psychological research to humans?

Starting of Darwinist ideas, human beings like other species is the result of evolution. This evolution took place not only morphologically but also emotional and mental level. From this perspective there is no reason to argue that only humans possess mental abilities, other species also possess them.

Therefore, since Darwin raised his theory in 1959 and until now researchers have continued to analyze the mental cognitive, emotional and physiological processes in animal level, and providing theoretical proposals that have determined an important development in many fields. By this I do not mean, of course, there is an identity between mental processes of nonhuman animals and humans, there are processes that involve similar mechanisms and others that can not be analyzed from animal research.

How should be elected to serve as research animals?

That depends on the type and purpose of the investigation. With regard to psychological disorders, research began to work with dogs on experimental neurosis developed by Pavlov and Shenger-Krestovnikova (1927) and subsequently numerous research lines with other animals developed: Lidell worked with goats and sheep, Masserman … cats have also carried out numerous works with primates. Currently, the most commonly used animals are laboratory rats and mice. Of course, there are few studies in this field with animals other than vertebrates (although studies of the psychological processes have used other species), probably because the most functional models are those that analyze behavior with any degree of complexity and because it is more easy to find analogies to physiological and neurobiological level.

I imagine that I most commonly used are mice and rats, is not it?

-Effectively. The reasons are many and various kinds. Scientifically, as I mentioned earlier, they develop complex behaviors and there are many degrees of physiological and neurobiological similarities to the human level. But these features also exist in other species higher degrees. However, the economic factor is also crucial, their reproductive capacity and size make these animals are easier to acquire and maintain their housing and more affordable.

In the selected animals should model the disorder to be studied, how broadly that modeling?

In the modeling process there are mainly two steps. The first involves establishing what we call the initial analogy, ie, find a method or paradigm experimental generate behaviors (motor, emotional and physiological) that are similar (not identical) in some central aspect to those seen in people with some psychopathological . This first step can be based on materials or descriptive equivalences, for example considering that the increased cortisol in humans and corticosterone in rats are equivalent behavior in the sense that they reflect similar mechanisms. And also they are based on conceptual and equivalences directed theoretically considered that, for example, anhedonia can be studied in animals by methods that measure the hedonic and incentive value reinforcers. The next step involves setting up what we call a formal analogy. This involves identifying the factors or variables that cause, modulate or affect the identified behaviors trying to establish equivalence with the factors that cause modulate or affect the processing mechanisms underlying the onset of symptoms modeled.

Is there any regulation about these experiments?

‘Of course, there is European legislation (Directive 2010/63 / EU) and Spanish (Law 6/2013) that all laboratories must meet to ensure maximum protection of animals used in scientific experiments. This regulation refers to animal welfare. They are subject to it both animal production centers and research centers. It also implies that all research projects must be assessed by ethics committees that are responsible for ensuring compliance with them.

What are the three most important experiments carried out in this area of ​​psychology?

Choose the three most important experiments is an impossible mission. If I can, from my perspective, I describe three experiments that I think have been relevant to the development of this area of ​​knowledge. It should be borne in mind that research in this field come together professionals from different fields, psychologists, pharmacologists, physiologists, biologists, doctors …. and that in this respect every professional field could choose very different experiments.

Since I am a psychologist and the area of ​​basic it could highlight first the experiment of Pavlov and Shenger-Krestovnikova (1927) for its importance as foundational research in this field which allowed raising the experimental analysis of mental disorders and their influence on others researchers hypothesized that animals could be good models to study this disorder type .. in experiments on ‘experimental neurosis’ animals were taught to discriminate between two signals, a circle that marked the emergence of food and an ellipse pointing the absence of food. The animals learned to salivate at the circle no longer do so before the ellipse. After both stimuli were modified to the point where it was almost impossible to distinguish from one another. In this situation, Pavlov and Krestovnikova observed that the behavior of their dogs became chaotic and bizarre and felt I had some analogy with certain sintomatologías observed in humans.

Another line of research that I consider particularly important is that developed by Seligman and Maier (1967) on the phenomenon of learned helplessness, which is considered one of the animal models of depression. These researchers showed how certain aspects of stressful situations, such as uncontrollability and unpredictability, determined cognitive, motivational and emotional deficits in animals that were similar to those observed in patients with clinical depression. These investigations led to the development of the theory of attribution and contributed to the development of techniques of cognitive restructuring are those that currently have more evidence of effectiveness as psychotherapy for depression.

Also it highlights research conducted by S. Siegel (1976) that allowed him to raise his conditioned compensatory response model to explain both the development of drug tolerance and withdrawal to substance abuse. In these experiments it demonstrated that the signals associated with the drug acquire the ability to activate compensatory responses that activate the same drugs. In this regard, the application of the drug in the presence of these conditioned signals produces less effect than if the drug is applied in the absence of the same (conditional tolerance). Also, if we expose subjects to these signals and do not administer the drug-related behaviors withdrawal state (psychological withdrawal) develop. These mechanisms are central to the explanatory theories of addictive disorders.

And, now, what relevant experiments are conducted using animal models?

Today animal models are widely used to analyze many variables that affect the development and maintenance of mental and neurodegenerative diseases. In the case of Parkinson, for example, techniques are being used neuronal regeneration with stem cells to treat the loss of dopaminergic neurons of certain structures of the basal ganglia. Having achieved this first and crucial objective is studying whether the regeneration at the cellular level also has an effect on cognitive level. Genetic studies are also providing interesting results on variables diathesis or vulnerability to the development of disorders. Also they are analyzed more psychological variables. For example, there is a whole line of research is showing that certain early experiences (maternal separation, illness and stress) confer a degree of vulnerability in adult life to developing a disorder before precipitating situations.

The analysis of the physiological bases of disorders is also being widely studied from the field of animal models, which is providing knowledge of great significance for understanding them.

What time concluded an already successful experiment can move to human testing?

Also that depends on the model type. If the model is screening of pharmacotherapy much additional research is needed before it can move to use in the population. If the model is analyzed or validate constructs are central in the clinical, research can be carried out almost simultaneously. Here, there will be an interaction between the results in the animal and human field allowing an important theoretical development.

As conclusion, what is the importance of the use of animals in advancing psychology?

The use of animals has been and is central to the advancement of psychology. Many of the discoveries and many therapies used today in the field of mental illness come precisely from research with animal models. Deep understanding of these diseases affective, cognitive and physiological level has needed and continues to need research with animal models.

Could change animal models for others in the future?

I do not think short term we can replace animal models for others. Obviously alternative procedures are used whenever possible and new neuroimaging techniques are increasingly accurate, but I think a thorough understanding of the processes of psychological and physiological processing is necessary to perform relevant theoretical interpretations that enable new lines of action both preventive treatment level and we need further research and advancing animal models. The experimental control that allows an animal model, the ability to analyze the psychological and physiological processes in interaction with states of vulnerability and the factors contributing to the onset of the disease makes the animal research today is Central and difficult to replaced by any other model.


The use of animals has been and is central to the advancement of psychology


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