Chapter 1: Introduction to Biological Psychology

1.5: Research with Animals

To understand the human brain and human psychology, ideally we would only study humans. But some research cannot be conducted with humans, so researchers in biological psychology also perform research with animals. Most  psychological research using animals is now conducted with rats, mice, and birds, as the use of other animals such as non-human primates is declining (National Research Council, 2011; Thomas & Blackman, 1992). Like research with humans, all research plans with animals must be reviewed by ethics boards to ensure that it meets important ethical principles such as:

  • Use animals in research only if there is a reasonable expectation that the research will provide some benefit such as increasing understanding of the structures and processes underlying behavior or benefiting the health and welfare of humans or other animals.
  • Use a procedure that subjects animals to pain or stress only if an alternative procedure is not available and the research goals are justified by its prospective scientific, educational, or applied value.
  • Make every effort to minimize discomfort, illness, and pain of the animals.

People naturally disagree about the practice of using animals in research. Although many people accept the value of such research (Plous, 1996), a minority of people, including some animal-rights activists, believe that it is ethically wrong to conduct research on animals because animals are living creatures just as humans are, so no harm should be done to them.

Most scientists, however, argue that such beliefs ignore the benefits that can come from animal research (Stangor et al., 2019). For instance, drugs to prevent or treat polio, diabetes, smallpox, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease may first be tested on animals, and surgery that can save human lives may first be practiced on animals. Research on animals has also led to a better understanding of the physiological causes of depression, phobias, and stress, among other illnesses. Many scientists believe that because there are many possible benefits from animal research, such research should continue as long as the animals are treated humanely and ethical principles mentioned above are met. The animal-research debate is active and ongoing, and need not be characterized as a simple dichotomy between “Yes, always” or “No, never.” The efforts by animal-rights groups have led to better treatment and conditions for lab animals.

Text Attributions

This section contains material adapted from:

Stangor, C., Walinga, J. & Cummings, J. A. (2019). 3.1 Psychologists Use the Scientific Method to Guide Their Research. In Introduction to Psychology. University of Saskatchewan.  Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED


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