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Humane Studies Using Students

Ideas and references for life science studies that involve students as both investigators and subjects

Even the cleanest, most sterile school classroom is still invaded regularly by organisms. They are called students. These complex, sentient animals have both physical and psychological characteristics that make them infinitely fascinating as research subjects. They are also keen to learn and will readily assume the role of inquiring scientist. The following is a list of projects students can conduct wherein they are both the investigators and the subjects of study. These projects can be adapted to suit a broad range of student ages, and to involve key elements of the scientific process (study design, data collection, interpretation and presentation, etc.). None of these exercises should cause any physical risk to students, but teachers should avoid situations that could cause mental harm to students.

Eye dominance. The student sights a distant object through a peep-hole (produced by his/her fingers, or using a sheet of cardboard with a one inch hole cut into the center) held at arm's length. The student then covers or closes one eye. If the object remains visible through the peep-hole, then the uncovered eye is the dominant eye, and vice versa.

Related questions: Is the subject's dominant eye and dominant hand on the same side? What proportion of students have right eye dominance and left eye dominance, and what proportion have matching eye/hand dominance.

Depth perception. Prop a large sheet of white cardboard (about 2 x 3 feet) in front of the class so that the top is several inches above the eye level of the subjects. Hold a strip of black paper (1 x 6 inches) at the following distances behind the cardboard so that about 2 inches of the strip is visible above it: 3 inches, one foot, six inches, and one inch. For each distance, have the students judge the distance between the large card and the black strip under four conditions: a) using one eye, head held still, b) using one eye, moving head back and forth, c) using both eyes, head held still, and using both eyes, moving head back and forth. Repeat the exercise with a pencil, changing the order of distances between the pencil and the cardboard. The students record their judgments (16 for the strip and 16 for the pencil) and, after you tell them the actual distances, compute their errors.

Related questions: Which condition produced the poorest, and which the best, judgments? What depth cues were available under each condition? Were there differences between the black strip and the pencil? Why?

Hearing directionality. A blindfolded student sits in a chair. Another student makes sounds (using a clicker "cricket" or clicking two coins together) at various points around the subject's head at a distance of around 3 feet. The subject points in the direction he/she thinks the sound is coming from.

Vocal recognition

Taste acuity


Useful References

Orlans, F. Barbara. 1977. Animal Care From Protozoa to Small Mammals. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. [see chapter 17: Experiments with Humans, pp. 320-340]

Compiled by Jonathan P. Balcombe, Ph.D., Associate Director for Education, Animal Research Issues, The Humane Society of the United States, 1997

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