Simpson College’s Department of Psychology has 10 lab rats that assist students with research methods in the PSYC-331 Learning and Behavior course. 

Professor Don Evans, Department Chair of Psychology, says the rats are used by students doing research studies of basic learning principles or for advanced research projects, in addition to students taking Learning and Behavior. 

“The reason I use the animals for that class is because they absolutely demonstrate what we are trying to teach in the class. It’s one thing to read about something. It’s quite another to actually reproduce it, which is what we can do in labs with the rats,” Evans said. 

Students taking PSYC-331 Learning and Behavior study behavior patterns, which can be reproduced in a more hands-on method in the lab with the rats. 

“In general, what we talk about in class and predict that the rats will do, they absolutely do it,” Evans said. “That’s really a powerful learning procedure.” 

According to research conducted by the Smithsonian Magazine, lab rats and rodents have been used in research for more than 150 years. Evans shared that he himself took a class similar to PSYC-331 when he was an undergraduate psychology major. He said that the department has used rats for approximately 20 years. 

The department of psychology partners with Charles River Laboratories in Wilmington, MA, which supplies animals for research and teaching. The rats are initially shipped to the Department of Biology and Environmental Science before Evans places them in their respective lab homes. 

“When they come they’re only about 20 days old, and they weigh maybe somewhere between 35 and 50 grams,” Evans said. “Three or four weeks later, we start working with them, then they weigh 300-something, so they grow pretty quickly.”

Senior psychology major Anneka Finn is currently taking PSYC-331—she seconds this notion. 

“I think that working with the rats is a great hands-on learning experience,” Finn said.  “We get to see how the things we are learning in class actually work.”  

All students taking the course have the option to adopt their rats at the end of the school year; students doing independent research projects involving the rats …….


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