controversies - use of animals in research - evaluation

  • Created by: Abi Crew
  • Created on: 19-05-22 14:36

controversies - use of animals in research - evaluation


  • human altruism - the argument that the real-life applications of non-human animal research for humans make any ethical or social implication focused reasons to not complete the research irrelevant. Gray (1991) stated, “ We have a special duty to members of our own species.” sentiment has been adopted by advocates for non-human animal use in psychological research for years and supporting evidence for this statement predates Gray himself. For example, Ivan Pavlov (1897)’s ‘The Work of the Digestive Glands’, a study in which behaviourist principles and classical conditioning were used to control the behavioural and physiological processes of dogs in response to food and sound. The findings of this study have been effectively applied to humans and have led to invaluable advancement in systematic desensitisation as a therapy for anxiety disorders, PTSD, phobias etc.
  • continuity evolution argument - evolution into humans from apes affords a plethora of biological and mental similarities that assists in the effective generalisation of research. This was first presented by Charles Darwin (1859) and entails the idea that there are similarities in the basic physiology and nervous system of almost all mammals. The ‘Phylogenetic tree’, for example, represents an evolutionary continuum of traits associated with all mammals that allow them to be interchangeable in research, such as specific bone placements, live birthing etc. along with mental homologies like sensory receptors in the brain. This means that the differences between human and non-human mammals are quantitative, not qualitative, and therefore comparisons are valid. Research on non-human mammals can then be applied to most mammals, not only humans.
  • scientific advantages - 1) research that uses non-human animals is largely methodological, and it is possible to expose non-human animals to certain research conditions for longer periods of time than is ethically acceptable or logistically viable for human beings, which allows further study into areas like privation etc. 2) research using non-human animals more often than not eliminates extraneous variables like demand characteristics and holds a high level of internal validity where cause and effect relationships can be easily inferred, which leads to more research into obscure and often neglected psychological phenomena. An example of this is Harry Harlow (1958)’s ‘Total Isolation of Infant Monkeys’, in which monkeys were subjected to extensive isolation to extrapolate the criteria needed to form maternal attachments. The conditions of this study would be considered objectively ethically unacceptable for humans to endure, however, is considered by some to be okay for non-human animals.
  • ethics - pain and harm are believed to be far less relevant than in research with human participants due to the possibility that non-human animals do not have the capacity to experience these feelings on the same level. For example, Sneddon et al (2003) found that fish and similar non-human animals do not feel pain either at all or in a considerable amount. This study concludes with the argument that it would be unethical to subject human beings to the physical and mental harm caused by the same research that uses non-human animals. The belief that non-human animals can tolerate pain more effectively than humans is also extremely prevalent in psychology circles that condone studies like the famous Skinner (1948), where mice were physically punished via electrical shock and food deprivation if they did not fulfil the experimenter's goal.


  • problematic generalisation - Many argue that the physical and mental differences between human and non-human animals are too significant to ignore when attempting to apply study findings to humans, especially in research that could yield huge breakthroughs in human psychology such as Pavlov (1897). It is also unlikely that research can be generalised to all non-human species if only conducted using one variety of non-human animal, let alone a human being. Ilkiw and Ratcliffe (1987) highlighted issues with common-practice generalisation in psychology when they found that paracetamol is fatal for cats unless they are given long-term specific therapy prior to ingestion, whereas it is used as a household analgesic medication for humans. Furthermore, it can be argued that although animals that are genetically similar to humans share a genotype with humans, they do not share phenotypes, which is a far wider representation of biology and environment that is key to generalising research findings.
  • utilitarianism and speciesism -  This means that many do not value non-human rights and protection as much as that for humans, and that non-human animal suffering is necessary to limit the suffering of humans. Singer (1975) was opposed to any research conducted on non-human animals that could not ethically, based on the BPS Guidelines, also be conducted on human beings. They were also against the view that non-human animals are expendable and replaceable, as many of the animals used in these studies are euthanised when they are no longer considered useful. Singer also describes speciesism as “akin to racism” in humans, and asserted that to place human interest on a pedestal is prejudiced and discriminatory.
  • lacks validity - For example, Pavlov’s 1897 dog study significantly lacks both internal and external validity. This is due to the fact that it cannot be proven that the dogs were salivating due to the conditioned expectation of food when hearing a specific noise rather than another reason such as the smell of food residue or even tooth decay or nervousness prompted by the research environment. As well as this, the study was carried out in a laboratory under artificially controlled conditions, even using specific apparatus invented by Pavlov himself, so it would be irresponsible to assert that the findings of the research could be effective in an organic, real-world environment. Another example of this is Lorenz’s 1935 famous geese study. The findings from this research into imprinting from birth lack external validity because the methods used cannot be effectively replicated in any authentic environment, as the clutch of goose eggs used were hatched under an artificial incubation light in a lab and then transferred into a field experiment for the measurement of imprinting.


In conclusion, the question of whether or not non-human animals should be used in research has no simple answer. This is because it can and has been cogently argued that any suffering inflicted on non-human animals that are incapable of presenting valid consent is unjustified and should not occur. On the other hand, many argue the utilitarian approach: if the research is helpful in improving the quality of life for human beings, harm caused to a limited number of non-human animals is necessary and worth it.


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