Cat dissection vs. sculpting human structures in clay: An analysis of two approaches to undergraduate human anatomy laboratory education

John R. Waters, Peggy Van Meter, William Perrotti, Salvatore Drogo, Richard J. Cyr

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43 Scopus citations


Many human anatomy courses are taught using cat dissection. Alternatives are available, but information regarding learning outcomes is incomplete. In 2003, ∼120 undergraduates enrolled in a human anatomy course were assigned to one of two treatment groups. In the control group, students performed cat dissections (emphasizing isolation and identification) of the muscular, digestive, and cardiovascular systems. In the experimental treatment group, students built clay sculptures of each human body system. Student learning was evaluated by using both low- and high-difficulty questions. On pre- and postexperiment control exams, there were no significant differences in student performance. On exams after a cat dissection vs. a human-clay sculpting experience, the students in the human-clay sculpting treatment group scored significantly higher than their classmates in the cat dissection group on both the low- and high-difficulty questions. Student attitudes toward dissection and taking future human anatomy courses were also measured. There were no differences in student attitudes at the beginning of the experiment; afterward, students exposed to a cat dissection experience viewed dissection more favorably than students in the human-clay sculpting treatment group. There were no treatment effects on student willingness to take future human anatomy courses. The experimental design makes it difficult to conclude precisely why students assigned to the human-clay sculpting experience performed better on exams, but as each method was performed in this particular human anatomy course, our data indicate that human-clay sculpting may be a viable alternative to cat dissection in an anatomy course in which the students focus on human anatomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-34
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Advances in Physiology Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology


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