Discuss the ethical issues in the use of non-human animals in research in psychology

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  • Created by: Sophie
  • Created on: 06-06-15 11:58


Animal studies are used due to the opportunity of greater control and objectivity that is synonymous with researching animals. They are also used when research procedures would be deemed unethical to conduct on human participants or when the psychological research will lead to a better understanding of scientific knowledge.

It is also beneficial as sometimes extrapolation is possible from animal studies to apply to human behaviour due to our commonality and evolutionary past.

This has been demonstrated in a number of animal studies such as Selye’s study with rats. This was deemed unethical as he inflicted stressors on animals that were defenceless which resulted in ulcers and weak immune systems which they would not have experienced in their natural habitat. However this study had contributed the understanding of human behaviour as from this he generated the General Adaptation Syndrome to successfully explain how we deal with stress. Though this was unethical on animals, it would have been illegal to do on humans.

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Pointless research on animals

Point: However research on animals can be both unethical and pointless.

Example: as was demonstrated in researched conducted by Gardener and Gardener who kept a chimpanzee in conditions which were alien to a chimp for 22 months. The findings of this research showed that after 22 months Washoe could remember an insignificant number of signs which did not significantly contribute to the human understanding of animals or the acquisition of language.

Extra: This is evidence to suggest that research may not be beneficial and still have detrimental effects to the animals involved in research as Washoe was not nurtured/raised as she would have been in the wild which could have affected her interactions with other chimps and everyday life in her natural habitat.

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Animal studies cannot be justified

Point: It is also argued that animal studies cannot be justified as Singer suggests that the discrimination of animals is logically parallel to racism and it is unethical as using animals to benefit humans is morally indefensible.

Develop: A moral view is therefore taken that only when the potential benefits are high and the procedures could also be carried out with humans is it acceptable to use animals, if not then we as humans are prejudice and ranking ourselves above other species.

Support: This is the argument of speciesm. This argument is supported by the absolutist position who suggest that there are no circumstances under which animal research is acceptable regardless of the potential benefits.

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Humans ave a special duty of care to humans

Point: However Grey contrasts this by arguing that we have a special duty of care to humans and so animal testing and studies is not equivalent to racism.

Support: This is supported by the utilitarian view that whatever produces the greatest pleasure to the greatest number of individuals is more ethically acceptable. Also although animals have ‘rights’, possessing rights is dependent on having responsibilities in society and as animals do not it could be argued that they do not have any rights.

Extra: There are also existing constraints within psychology whereby institutional committees are likely to award research grants when the research is of high quality and there is minimal suffering to the animals involved which acts as a deterrent for inducing animal suffering as a consequence of psychological research. Such decisions are made similarly to a cost benefit analysis using ‘Batesons’s cube’ which aids the weighing up of the degree of suffering against the value of research, however issues arise when both the quality and the suffering of research are both in the middle ground.

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Existing constraints

Point: There are also existing constraints that are put in place such as the UK Animals Act 1986 which states that research should only take place at licensed laboratories with licenced researchers on licensed project.

Develop: This is to prevent unethical practices being conducted on Animals. This is also effective as it is an actual legislation which means that the individuals can be legally reprimanded for breaching such restrictions. There are also constraints that only issue licences to psychologists enabling them to conduct research on animals if the potential results; justify the ethical issues raised by the use of animals, if minimal numbers of animals are used of which only endure minimal levels of suffering as a consequence.

This works at protecting the animals under study from undergoing extreme levels of physical or mental trauma.

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Legislations are too simplistic

Point: However there is an argument that legislations such as these simply legalise minimal standards of imprisonment (caging) and hurting or killing animals as it issues a framework to work within although in theory it is all unethical; making it legal does not make it ethical or moral.

Develop: In addition the national centre for replacement, refinement and reduction of animal’s recent analysis showed that only 59% of the 271 studies conducted in the US and the UK mentioned the number of animals used. T

Extra: his suggests that the existing constraints implemented to protect non-human animals in the use of psychological research may not be as effective as the guidelines are not always being followed.

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