A Lesson in Patience: Cooperative Chair Training of Rhesus Macaques
AbstractAwake-behaving non-human primates (NHPs), specifically rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta), are often used in experiments involving psychophysics, electrophysiology, and cognition; these tasks involve physical restraint of the animal to some degree in order to ensure safety for the researcher with minimal discomfort to the animal. Traditional methods of training include fitting animals with rigid aluminum or chain-link collars prior to chairing. Long poles or leashes that latch onto the collars are then used to guide and transfer the animals into a special primate chair in which they can be transported to a different laboratory area in which they will perform specific tasks in the context of an experimental design.
The goal of our research was to establish a positive, trusting working relationship between NHP and researcher by using operant conditioning, desensitization, positive reinforcement, and very limited negative reinforcement in order for animals to voluntarily enter transportable box-style primate chairs and allow themselves to be lightly restrained with neck plates. Since the techniques are minimally coercive and do not involve physically handling the animal, researchers were less apprehensive in training animals. All animals trained using operant conditioning were more cooperative, calm, friendly, and willing to work longer periods on tasks. Additionally, because all animals were calm and cooperative, they were able to perform psychophysics tasks without the use of a head restraint system.
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