The rhesus monkey ambles over to the side of its cage and reaches up to a blue metal box strapped to the bars. With a long finger it touches a metal bar protruding from the box. Five touches . . .10 . . .15 - and a small white pellet rolls out into a slot. The monkey fishes out the banana-flavored snack and pops it into its mouth. Then it presses a second metal bar and the voice of Willie Nelson fills the room: "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys. . ."

No, this scene at the University of California, San Francisco, is not part of an experiment on the food and musical preferences of primates. Instead, animal behaviorist Hal Markowitz and Joseph Spinelli, director of animal care at UCSF, are tackling a much tougher question: how to keep lab animals contented.

Few scientists expect a...

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