What Approaches Are Used To Examine Drug Effects

In general, there are two ways to examine drug effects on behavior in the laboratory. One approach relies on observation of behavior in an animal s home cage or in an open area in which the animal (or person) can move about freely. When observational approaches are used, special precautions are necessary. First of all, the observer's presence should not disrupt the experiment. Television-monitoring systems and videotaping make it possible for the observer to be completely removed from the experimental situation. Second, the observer should not be biased. The best way to insure that the observer is not biased is to make the observer ''blind'' to the experimental conditions; that is, the observer does not know what drug is given or which subject received the drug. If the study is done in human subjects, then they also should be blind to the experimental conditions. An additional way to make sure observations are reliable is to use more than one observer and compare observations. If these precautions are taken, observational approaches can produce interesting and reliable data. Indeed, much of what is known about drug effects on motor behavior, food or water intake, and some social behaviors comes from careful observational studies.

Another approach uses the procedures of classical and operant conditioning. This involves training animals to make specific responses under special conditions. For example, in a typical experiment of this sort, a rat is placed in an experimental chamber and trained to press a lever to receive food. The number and pattern of lever presses are measured with an automatic device, and changes in responding are examined following drug administration. These procedures have several advantages. First, they produce a very consistent measure of behavior. Second, they can be used with human subjects as well as with several different animal species. Third, the technology for recording behavior eliminates the need for a trained observer.

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