A2 - Psychology - Ethical issues with non-human animals

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Examples of research with non-human animals

  • Harlow studied infant monkeys with surrogate mothers. The monkeys became emotionally maladjusted adults but the research helped us to understand emotional development in human infants.
  • Blakemore and Cooper raised kittens in an environment with vertical ines, which damaged their brain development but was useful as we know to treat children's visual defects early.
  • Ethologists such as Fossey (with gorillas) use naturalistic observations to study animals in the natural habitat without affecting their behaviour.
  • Psychological research investigates addiction and tests of drug for mentla disorders (but not other uses), which can cause pain and suffering to animals but potentially helps people with addiction and mental illnesses.
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Value of non-human animals

  • Most psychological research uses human participants but non-human animals may be used: as they are interesting in themselves, offer greater control and objectivity in research procedures and because we share physiology and evolutionary past justifying generalisation from animal research to humans.
  • Mainly we use animals when research procedures would not be possible with human beings, because the benefits of such research outweigh the costs to the animals.
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Moral justification

  • If animals experience pain and emotions they are sentient so should not be subjected to pain (but just reacting to pain may not be the same). Some animals are self-aware so are sentient.
  • Conversely, some humans (e.g. Brain-damaged people and infants) are not sentient but wouldn't be used in research without consent, so lack of sentience is not a moral justification for using animals.
  • Singer argueed that discrimination based on species (specisism) is no different from racism or sexism but Gray argues that or responsibility for humans means that racism/sexism and speciesism are not equivalent.
  • Singer's view is based on 'the greater good' (utilitarianism) so if animal can alleviate suffering, it is justifiable. Regan argues that animal research is never acceptable (absolutism). He says that any individual who is the 'subject of a life' (mature mammals) has inherent value so should treated with respect and has a right not to be used.
  • The 'animal rights' arguement is challenged by the concept that having rights is dependent on having responsibilities is society, they have no rights.
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Existing constraints

  • The UK Animals (Scientific procedures) Act requires licensed laboratories, researchers and projects for research. It protects only vertebrates (when more than half way through their gestation) and the octopus.
  • Licenses are granted if: potential benefits exceed costs (to animals), if research cannot be done using non-human animal methods; minimum number are used and suffering is minimised (e.g. using anaesthetics).
  • The Home Office recommends 'the 3r's': replace animals with alternatives, reduce the number of animals used and refine procedures to alleviate suffering.
  • The BPS guidelines suggest researchers: choose suitable species, consider the animal's previous experience, ensure good care of animals when not being studied and limit the potential harm of controlling food intake.
  • Dunayer argues that animal legislation doesn't protect but instead set standards for harm (like laws relating to slavery).
  • Kilkenny et al analysed studies using non-human animals (for psychological and other purposes) and found poor design and reporting, therefore standards should be improved.
  • British law requires that any new drug (including antidepressants) must be tested on at least two different species of live mammal.
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