The Evolution of Environmental Enrichment

By Amy Davis, JD, MPH

This post is a follow up to our May 27, 2014 post on the topic of environmental enrichment of animals in research settings. After that post was published, PRIM&R received a letter from Allyson J. Bennett, PhD, chair of the Committee on Animal Research and Ethics at the American Psychological Association (APA), and Sangeeta Panicker, PhD, director of research ethics at the APA, expressing their disapproval of our treatment of the topic (read the letter from Drs. Bennett and Panicker). In the spirit of transparency and respectful dialog, PRIM&R has written this second post, which we believe is a more considered treatment of an important and complex issue. We thank Drs. Bennett and Panicker for their feedback and for prompting us to take this second look.

There is no specific definition of “environmental enrichment.” (Mellen) It is a concept that has evolved and matured over the last 100 years at least, and is based on the idea that providing captive animals with more complex environments enhances their physical and mental health. (Adams, 2008)

It was in zoos where the earliest research occurred that spawned the evolution of environmental enrichment practices. The first zoos of the late 19th century were more like laboratories than places for public education and entertainment that we know today. Charles Darwin’s research spurred interest in studying animal species, which was most conveniently done in places where large collections of different animals could be enclosed, manipulated, and observed. (Young) The first steps toward environmental enrichment were taken to protect the physical health of these animals.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.