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Thread: the placebo effect on animals?

  1. #1 the placebo effect on animals? 
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    I would really like to do an experiment that proves that the placebo effect works on animals besides humans as well. I cant figure out a way to do this do to the effect that the animals won't understand what I am saying. I was thinking I could use the signs that orangutans learn and use them to "tell" them that if they eat only apples they will get more mates or something etc. Then I will see if they eat only apples and if they do in fact get more mates. Do u guys have any suggestions?


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  3. #2  
    Forum Ph.D. Darius's Avatar
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    THIS would go in behavioral sciences because it's useful, and not so much a hypothesis as it is soundly based in cognitive science.

    The placebo effect only works on conscious entities capable of being deceived by conscious biases. The use of language greatly strengthens the chance of it happening, but it's possible to happen without it (such as the idea that a certain object is lucky or protects you from harm), but generally is only reported in human cases.


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  4. #3  
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    Certainly animals may believe something's causative when it's really not. So we're part way there.

    I imagine if we could train animals to self-administer a real drug, we could then isolate a placebo group and see what happens. How about mice that have learned drinking from a certain bottle allows them to run the wheel briskly enough to earn a reward?
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    Forum Masters Degree Numsgil's Avatar
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    I would use dogs. They're highly attuned to humans' body language and language, even if they don't always understand what's going on. Essentially they're highly empathic.

    Not sure about what experiment to run, though...
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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Numsgil
    I would use dogs. They're highly attuned to humans' body language and language, even if they don't always understand what's going on. Essentially they're highly empathic.
    Fuzzy in, fuzzy out. Better if no human contact. See above, it can be done.
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  7. #6  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    Most animals aren't capable of abstract reasoning, ie, you can't just "tell" them something is causative to the point where they'll understand and believe it so whole-heartedly that it might actually affect their physiology. (In fact, for most animals you can't "tell" them anything, except for great apes that have learned some language.) For animals it has to be exemplary - they have to experience the causative relationship and that's how they'll learn it. If you want one individual to learn the relationship merely by observing another individual experience it, then you'll be limited to primates (maybe elephants and some cetaceans) and at that you may be limited to very few species. Learning via observation happens extremely slowly or not at all in most monkeys. Even in apes it's a slow process compared to how quickly humans can pick these things up.

    Now, having orangs experience getting more mates after eating apples will be very difficult. Even if you isolate one male orang in captivity with a bunch of females they may not necessarily want to mate with him. Female choice is active in that species.

    Less intelligent animals, like the mice in Pong's idea, have learning biases, so you can't just teach them any old correlation. This experiment was done with rats: give a rat food pellets that taste different than his usual pellets, and then zap him with x-rays to make him nauseous, he will avoid pellets with that taste like the plague. However, give him the weird tasting pellets and zap him with electricity, and he doesn't make the connection. Taste does not lead to physical pain in the rat's natural environment so he doesn't make the connection. However, give him pellets that are shaped oddly and zap him, and he'll avoid those pellets. Give him oddly shaped pellets and make him sick, again he won't make the connection. In his natural environment strangely shaped foods, say a scorpion, might hurt you, but if they taste fine they don't usually make you sick.
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    Less intelligent animals, like the mice in Pong's idea, have learning biases, so you can't just teach them any old correlation. This experiment was done with rats: give a rat food pellets that taste different than his usual pellets, and then zap him with x-rays to make him nauseous, he will avoid pellets with that taste like the plague. However, give him the weird tasting pellets and zap him with electricity, and he doesn't make the connection. Taste does not lead to physical pain in the rat's natural environment so he doesn't make the connection. However, give him pellets that are shaped oddly and zap him, and he'll avoid those pellets. Give him oddly shaped pellets and make him sick, again he won't make the connection. In his natural environment strangely shaped foods, say a scorpion, might hurt you, but if they taste fine they don't usually make you sick.
    Fascinating!
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  9. #8  
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    Very. In my mouse proposal I imagined bottles positioned on different sides of a cage (one contains a stimulant) but I considered differently coloured pellets and other associations. I don't know mice.

    The mice would have to associate consuming something - like the (caffeine, amphetamine, etc.) blue pellets not the red ones - with then getting on the wheel and performing well enough to gain a reward. I suspect that mice can regulate diet with metabolism and activity well enough to form that association. And they wouldn't choose the stimulant exclusively, or they'd feel sick. Likely a self-dosing pattern would develop, with regular highs and lows. Ultimately, we want to know if mice perform better because they associate eating something with having high energy.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  10. #9  
    Forum Freshman Schemmy888's Avatar
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    I have a few points to make:

    1) This post is in the wrong section...but I dont really care.

    2) After seeing some recent experiments that tried to prove that animals are cpable of thinkg, I think that it would be possible for the Placebo affect to occur to certain animals. There is even a video that was shown on a Discovery Channel special about a bird that had food and the bottom of a large tube and had to bend a thin piece of metal to get to it....which it DID do!!!!

    3) For this experiment, you would obviously have to use very stable and thorough conditions and even video-tape your discoveries for future proof.

    4) To prove if the answer was yes or no, I personally would use a few types of animals. Here are a few animals i would sugest: dogs / cats / pig (quite smart and capable of thinking).

    If you really wanted to be thorough you could use a HUGE variety of animals, like from an ant to snakes.
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