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Ethical issues in the use of non-human animals in
research in psychology
It should be obvious that animals have their place in psychological research, they are
not an inexhaustible resource, and there are rules and regulations governing their use
in psychological research. It should also be obvious that the ethical issues that apply
to humans in research do not apply to non-human animals. It is an entirely ridiculous
idea that Washoe, after learning ASL, was then able to give consent, or say that she
wanted to withdraw.
However, why should we use animals in research? The main justification is that some
research is not suitable for humans so it is considered better to use an animal to help
us understand the principles involved. For example, it is clear that sleep deprivation
is damaging to health, but it is only possible in animal research to find out the
consequences of long-term deprivation, and in some studies animals have died
following long term deprivation of sleep. This is useful to know, but is not something
that we would like to test on humans.
Studies using animals are controlled by the 'Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act,
1986. This followed from recommendations to the Government of the time by the
Experimental Psychology Society who issued updated guidance to the government
concerning the use of animals in experimental research. The 'Act' sets out three
major points that all researchers should follow:
1. Stress should be avoided or minimised for all living animals.
2. Other options to animal research should always be considered.
3. If animals have to be used, it is expected that the minimum number of animals
If a research team wishes to carry out some research that involves the use of
animals, then the Home Office grants a licence to carry out the research and
1. The conditions the animals are kept in. For example, is the cage big enough? Is
the food suitable? Is the level of light and noise adding to the animals stress?
Etc., etc. All of these have to be suitable for the particular species of animal
being cared for.
2. The researchers/animal assistants. Anyone that has care/responsibility of the
animals has to show that they have the necessary skills to care for the
particular species being used.
3. The research project. Applications for a licence to use animals in research
must be accompanied with a document detailing the aims of the research, the
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The granting of a Licence depends on the three factors given above, and the harm to
the animals is out-weighed by the benefits of the research. The conditions of the
licence have to be strictly adhered to, and any variations have to be agreed
beforehand. Research on endangered species is strictly forbidden, unless it has a
clear benefit to the species involved e.g. conservation.…read more