Research and Ethics

To observe, to understand, to respect


To put children in contact with the real needs of the animals, and to improve the monkeys’ enclosures in a way that was understandable for young visitors; to investigate the children’s concept of ‘welfare and of ‘wellbeing’ for further use in other educational activities.


Children at the zoo © project web pages

Argument for inclusion

he project was ‘one off’ with no continuity, nevertheless it seems interesting for 2 main reasons: one is the main aim, contrasting the diffused anthropocentric view of animals behaviours and welfare, the other one is the concrete effect the project has achieved on the animals’ conditions.

Relevant information in short

Main Research Partners

Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology of the Italian National Research Council (ISTC-CNR)

Educational partners

Classes from the primary school Iqbal Masih of Rome

Other partners

Educational enterprise Myosotis

Age classes

8-10 year old students

Thematic orientation


Main Focus

The ‘welfare’ concept in a context involving different species, the competence  ‘to put oneself in other species place’

Duration of activity

2006, only


Funded by the CNR, teachers and educational enterprise educators voluntary work


Contact person

Dr. Elisabetta Visalberghi, ISTC-CNR; Dr. Flaminia Tranchida,

Context and conditions

The project was led by the Institute of Cognitional Science of the Italian National Research Council, and managed together with an NGO proposing educational initiatives within the Zoological Museum of Rome. A colony of one species of monkeys– the Cebus apella - is followed from many years by a group of CNR researchers. When a possibility arose of improving the monkeys’ habitat, this was considered also as a way of involving children in a project, and investigating how to overcome their spontaneous ‘anthropocentric’ approach.

Activities and Contents

boy with clipboard

Taking notes

children with monkeys

Who is looking at whom?

Children 8 - 10 years old have been invited first to consider their conditions for ‘welfare’, and then to ‘put themselves in animals’ place’, reflecting on what welfare means for different (domestic and wild) species This reflection on well being was the starting point of a route which has brought children to visit the Cognitional Science CNR Institute, to learn how to observe the monkeys without imposing their own meanings to their behaviour, and finally to discuss together with the researchers the improvement of the enclosures.

Some of the improvements proposed by the children have been carried out by the research centre, and the children have been invited to see what was done and what not, and to discuss the reasons why.
The experience was a sort of pilot experience, interesting for the strong involvement of children in the concept and in the results of the research.

In the images Children learn how to observe and interpret monkeys’ behaviours.

Advice for observing monkeys :

If you really want to observe the monkeys, these are the rules to follow:

  • don’t use the camera, monkeys could be scared by flash
  • don ’t show the teeth, for the monkey is a treat
  • don ’t knock on glasses, monkeys will be scared and will not come near
  • don ’t scream.

Curriculum relevance: the school benefits


The initiative was easily introduced in the school curriculum. Teachers and parents strongly appreciated the possibility for children to know real research methods and to contribute to a concrete project. Children learned through ‘empathy’ the needs of other species and where very proud because of the implementation of part of their proposals.

Other outcomes: the animals benefits

Children proposed in their project to enrich the monkeys environment with water to wash their food, with lianas and branches to have more space for climbing , with holes to hide their food or their treasures.


Filippo: in my project monkeys will have a lot of lianas and more branches to scale and water and a cave (n.8) to hide in .



Flaminia: I propose to build small houses on the trees and to add trunks with holes where they can hide food or small treasures

MonkeysMonkey with syrup

Cherry syrup has been hidden in the trunk, as the children suggested, and the monkey is trying to reach it with a  long stick.

monkeys pictures © Elisabetta Visalberghi

Feedback / educational research

The project didn’t provide external or internal evaluation, nevertheless a series of feedbacks and data have been collected. Educational research on children attitudes and ideas concerning animals well being was conducted. A Likert format questionnaire was proposed at the beginning of the project proposing to children statements such as ‘Animals deserve to be respected as well as persons’, or ‘Often I look TV together with my cat (or dog)’ or ‘The animals exist over all because they are useful for human being’, and dimensions such as ‘sensibility’, ‘knowledge’, ‘confidence’, ‘anthropocentrism’, ‘utilitarism’,… were explored.

The graph show that there is a  relation between knowledge (on the x axis) and anthropocentrism, defined as the attribution to animals of human feelings and emotions.


The children were invited to ‘evaluate’ the changes in the monkeys’ enclosures and to ask for arguments concerning the choices made by the researchers. The work done by children was evaluated by the teachers and, informally, by parents, and highly appreciated.

Limits and possibilities

The project was based on the possibility to really improve the monkeys’ enclosures: funding was there for that and the proposal was to involve the children in the planning of the improvement. Clearly these conditions cannot happen every year. Nevertheless the project presents a concrete example of the possibility to involve children in applied ethology  every time there is an occasion to improve animals leaving conditions, not only in zoos but also in farms, eco-farms, natural parks, or even at school or at home.

Pictures and drawings ©project webpages


  • Other project from Italy
  • Other projects for 3 to 11 years old