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versión On-line ISSN 1668-7027


OVERMIER, J. Bruce. Basic animal research strengthens the science and practice of Psychology. Interdisciplinaria [online]. 2007, vol.24, n.2, pp.211-228. ISSN 1668-7027.

The formal study of animals as a way to gain insight into human behavior might be claimed to begin with Meyer in the 19th Century. Meyer's understanding of the potential power of the comparative approach has not been shared by many contemporary clinical practitioners even in this day. At the same time, Wolpe became dissatisfied with the ineffectiveness of the then available psychotherapies for treating clients with phobias. Wolpe undertook his researches using cats, first inducing fears and then seeking ways to reduce and eliminate those fears. The most effective way to reduce fears in cats had two components: (1) inducing a state that was incompatible with fear by feeding the animals, and (2) while in this fear-incompatible state, presenting and extinguishing, little-by-little, the fear eliciting stimulus. He generalized this to patients and developed what we now call systematic desensitization for the treatment of phobias. Pavlov was the first experimental animal researcher to use the modeling process to study how findings from animals can be used to study psychological processes in humans (including dysfunctional ones) and to test therapeutic treatments for humans based on tests in animals. The behavior labeled experimental neuroses didn't occur in just one animal but in virtually all animals subjected to the procedure of increasingly difficult discriminations. Shenger-Krestonikova demonstrated that neuroses were likely the natural, lawful consequence of particular forms of challenge to the animal. Another of Pavlov's associates, Krasnogorsky went on to show that exactly the same conditioning operations and environmental challenges in children yielded the same neurotic consequences. There are two important messages here for us: the first is the illustration of the nature of the modeling process in seeking parallels of causal chains between systems. The second is the demonstration that neurotic behaviors are not the result of abnormal disease states but rather the natural consequences of specific abnormal environmental challenges. Overmier and Seligman's discovery in dogs of learned helplessness was later extended to understanding reactive depression. They focused on the uncontrollability of events that characterize classical conditioning by exposing dogs to a series of unpredictable and uncontrollable aversive events. They found that extended experience with uncontrollable traumatic events induced a syndrome of deficits. The syndrome was composed of three major deficits: (1) Behavioral (they where not motivated to initiate responding), (2) Psychological / Cognitive (they did not learn to associate actions and outcomes), and (3) Emotional (they were passive in the face of pain). The additional features included deficits in immune function, increased vulnerability to gastrointestinal disturbances, and dramatic alterations / depletions in brain neurochemistry. The nature of memory has long fascinated psychologists since the 19th Century researches of Ebbinghaus. Trapold and Overmier developed a discriminative choice task paradigm in which the rewards for each kind of correct response were unique to that kind of correct choice. When they compared the results of the common outcomes method to those of the differential outcomes method, they found dramatic effects that they called the differential outcomes effect. The differential outcome procedure yields faster learning, learning to a higher asymptote, and more persistent memory during the delay between the cues and the choices, and resistance to disruption during the delay. It turns out that this effect of differential outcomes training on learning, memory, and performance is a very general finding across a range of species (including humans of all ages). These results have important potential for helping learning disabled and memory impaired persons. The research examples were meant to convey the message. That message is that contemporary basic science research with animals on fundamental mechanisms continues to produce results that are important and likely helpful to practitioners.

Palabras clave : Experimental Psychology; Clinical practice; Fear; Depression; Memory; Animal Psychology.

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