February 2, 2007

Rats . . .

I am the teaching assistant for Dr. Langholtz's psychology research methods course this semester, and his course happens to be unique from other research methods courses in that the students actually get to work with rats for about two weeks to learn operant conditioning. It's pretty interesting.

So, about a week before the "rat labs," I work with three rats to get them ready for a class demonstration. It's not too bad, I got the hang of it now. But I was also his TA last semester, and before coming to W&M I haven't ever worked with rats (it was never a part of my research method courses at VCU). So when he told me that I would be in control of the rat labs I was pretty freaked out about it. I remember the first day of handling the rats, man that was horrible. I didn't know how to hold them . . . I thought I was going to squish them or they would bite me or something. But by the end of the week I felt like a pro. It was actually a good experience, and the students last semester really enjoyed the lab.

Well, today I started working with my rats . . . oh joy. Can you tell the hint of sarcasm? It's really not that bad actually. Rats are just time consuming when using them in research. You have to weigh them, feed them and then clean up after them before, during and after you complete your tasks for the day. I have three males this go round (last semester I had three females). At the moment two are really passive and don't really care what I do to them. But the other one is really aggressive and stubborn. He cries loudly and really tries to force himself out of my hands. Not to mention the control of his bowels that he happens to lose while I'm grabbing him. But I think he'll get used to me after a few days.

As a side-note, all students in the lab have to take a short "animals in research" ethics certification before they are allowed to proceed with the lab. Also, all that we are teaching them is operant conditioning stuff. No real intrusive procedures such as injections and what not. Just putting the rats in a skinner box and seeing if we can get them to press a lever for a food pellet. It's pretty easy and the rats catch on quick. We usually do the lab in fixed ratio schedules. In the beginning, the rats must learn that after every lever press a food pellet will come. Once that is mastered, then we go on to the next level, which is two lever presses before receiving a pellet and so on and so on up to a fixed ratio schedule of ten. After that students can try what they want, extinction (not killing the rat, but getting him/her to unlearn the behavior), variable ratio schedules, light discrimination schedules . . . whatever. They'll enjoy it.

We'll see how it goes I guess!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

in my course i was recently one of the 'students' at a rat lab

lol, fun though it was, and cute though the rats are, my enjoyment of the course was somewhat sedated because the 2 rats i had never learnt to lever press despite the same techniques used as others in the class

told by the tutor to continue with these seeminly 'dud' rats i did and now at the end of the course must write a report on the outcomes of our research.

what on earth should a lass like mi write about my rats particpation in this research,
all he did was...well nothing lol

its mind boggling too that the tutors just say ...take another persons research and write about that, well then it isnt really my work...

hmm....such dilmas