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DATE: 1940

LENGTH: 13 min

CATEGORY: Educational & Instructional, Silent, Black & White

CREATOR: Orval Hobart (O.H.) Mowrer

PRODUCER/PUBLISHER: Department of Psychology, Institute of Human Relations, Yale University


The history of animal testing and the history of the life sciences go hand in hand. Yet as Ben Schultz-Figueroa argues in this essay, these experiments were always fraught, as scientists had to manage their own emotional entanglement with their animal subjects, who often were killed or maimed in the process of the experiment. This is the “shared suffering” of the lab, and Schultz-Figueroa’s work prompts us to think about it not only as a guidepost for understanding the ethics of animal experiments but also as a methodological tool to understand visual images, specifically films, from the history of science. Mowrer’s films contain traces of the burdened relationship between him and his rodent test subjects….Read The Essay

Warning: These films contain explicit images of disease and intrusive medical treatment. Viewer discretion advised.

Supplementary Materials

Stills from Competition and Dominance Hierarchies in Rats

Other Films Featured in the Essay “Shared Suffering Onscreen: Animal Experiments and Emotional Investment in the Films of O.H. Mowrer”

In the Collections of the National Library of Medicine

NLM Historical Audiovisuals Collection

The Falls of 1972: This Medicine on Screen essay by Edmund Ramsden explores a filmed experiment by John B. Calhoun, a research psychologist for 40 years at the National Institute of Mental Health. One of Calhoun’s areas of study was the effects of overcrowding. He constructed mouse colony “universes” where rodent residents had plenty of food and water, and were safe from predators. What they didn’t have was space. In this film Dr. Calhoun explains, and the viewer sees, the effects on the animals of sustained overcrowding. The resulting “behavioral sink” shows the mice engaged in aberrant actions such as hyperaggression, compulsive grooming, failure to reproduce, and infant cannibalism.

Vulnerability to Covert Attack: This Cold War film documents tests conducted near a coastal airbase—exact location not disclosed—in which possible covert attack scenarios are enacted. The film aims to show how chemical agents, such as nerve toxins, could be delivered with a variety of weapons. The camera documents the precise physical effects, relying on footage of animal experiments which may be disturbing to some.

NLM Prints & Photographs Collection

NLM Rare Book & Early Manuscripts Collection

Collage of illustrations, cats and dogs exhibiting frightened and pleased behaviors.The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872 by Charles Darwin
National Library of Medicine #1267767

Darwin had explored the emotional life of humans and animals in The Descent of Man. He expanded his considerations in The Expression of the Emotions, produced from materials originally intended for that first work. Pioneering its use of photographs in science, Darwin relied on the images of artist Oscar Rejlander (1813–1875) to show the continuity of emotional life in the higher animals. By means of side-by-side pictures, Darwin was able to correlate human emotions with those shown by primates and other mammals. In doing so, he discredited the claim that humans had a distinctly different from the animals: the differences were ones of degree, not kind. Learn more about Darwin’s books in Rewriting the Book of Nature.

Animal Experimentation in Medicine through the 18th Century: an exhibition at the National Library of Medicine, 1 July–30 October, 1965
National Library of Medicine #101260723

This exhibit shows some contributions to medical knowledge through such investigations, from ancient times through the eighteenth century. Not all are monuments in the history of biomedical research: included are several lesser works. View full text in NLM Digital Collections.

Related Resources from the National Library of Medicine


PubMed® comprises more than 32 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books.

Preserving guilt in the “age of psychology”: The curious career of O. Hobart Mowrer by Corbin Page, February 2017 Read the full text at the American Psychological Association

Recent efforts to elucidate the scientific validity of animal-based drug tests by the pharmaceutical industry, pro-testing lobby groups, and animal welfare organisations by Jarrod Bailey and Michael Balls, March 2019 Read the full text on PubMed Central

The safety, efficacy and regulatory triangle in drug development: Impact for animal models and the use of animals by Peter J K van Meer, Melanie L Graham, Henk-Jan Schuurman, July 2015

Profiles in Science

Profiles in Science presents the lives and work of innovators in science, medicine, and public health through in-depth research, curation, and digitization of archival collection materials.

three men hooking up a dog to a machineClarence Dennis, Profiles in Science
American surgeon Clarence Dennis (1909–2005) invented one of the first heart-lung bypass machines, and in 1951 was the first to use it to perform open-heart surgery. Dennis utilized dogs in the early days of developing this machine. This dog had a half hour of total heart-lung pass.
National Library of Medicine #101584928X166

a man and a women in white lab coats doing testing
Wilbur A.⁠ Sawyer, Profiles in Science
Wilbur Augustus Sawyer (1879–1951) was a key figure in preventive medicine and international public health during the first part of the twentieth century. During his career, he served as director of the Rockefeller Foundation Yellow Fever Laboratory, where he developed the first effective yellow fever vaccine by testing on rhesus monkeys.
National Library of Medicine #101584931X27

Animals for Research, Lederberg, Joshua. Washington Post Company, 21 August 1966

Breeding and care of the albino rat for research purposes: Greenman, Milton J. (Milton Jay), 1866–1937, author. Duhring, F. Louise (Fannie Louise), 1878– author. Philadelphia: Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, August 1923


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