Animal Research and the Ethics of Experimentation

Animal Research and the Ethics of Experimentation

Psychologists undertake research to gain more insight into behavior and consequently apply this knowledge to improve on human and animal welfare. Much of the research uses humans as subject although recently the use of animals has been on the rise. The study of human and animal behavior dates back to Charles Darwin’s evolution theory. More has been done, since then to understand the basic principals underlying the behavior of creatures both human and non human. More so, as psychologists seek to answer questions concerning the mind, intelligence and cognitive processes, animal research emerge as a strong contributor. This paper will discuss why psychologists are shifting into use of animals in their research as well as the ethical principles that guide them in their practice

According to Myers (2012), through the study of animals psychologists have been able to demystify processes in the animal anatomy such as taste, hearing, vision, and pain perception. Studies on the animal cognition have shed more light concerning the ecological and comparative processes of the mind. Research with animals is attributed to findings and the understanding of processes such as adaptation, development, and learning. Other important contributions of research with animals include the treatment of clinical problems such as self- injurious conditions in autistic children, as well as the understanding of physical dependence and drug abuse.

According to Sheepnsy (2009), the study of certain behavior processes and behaviors require subjects that have certain characteristics, for instance, age, size or genetic make-up. Such experiments may also require certain restrictions of the subjects in terms of diet, environmental controls or specific behavioral histories.  It would, certainly be impossible to achieve such with humans and thus the use of animals. Mostly, studies use animals in cases where the practical or ethical conditions involved cannot allow the use of human. For instance, psychopharmacology involves the study of the behavior effect and withdrawal of a drug that is  chronically   administered. Such a study required many days and most of these drugs are not yet approved for use by humans. Several studies also involve the examination of the brain after treatment and may also need the administration of the drug directly to certain tissues of the brain to create a more understanding of the mechanisms (Myers, 2012).

Bennett (2012), points out that the use of animals in research is highly safeguarded by both the federal government and by scientific bodies such as the American Association for the Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) and the APA. Scientists have to obtain accreditation from this body before they can use animals in their research. They have to give assurance concerning proper care and conditions for the animals in their laboratories. Professional bodies that have members engaging in animal research have their own ethical standards and guidelines for their members.

Care and use of animals in research is governed by the Animal Welfare Act. Institutions involved in animal research are required to come up with institutional Animal Care Committee whose mandate is to review research protocols (Bennett, 2012).


Sheepnsy (2009), argues that animal research is guided by certain guidelines that must be adhered to by those involved in it. In performing the research it is ethically wrong to go on with it if it would cause more harm than the benefits it yields. In any research with animals there should be a clear purpose that the study is bound to yield knowledge that sheds an insight into the processes of evolution, alteration, control, development, maintenance or behavior. Secondly, the study should also increase the knowledge of the species being studied. Consequently the study should bring forth beneficial results to the welfare of humans or animals.

While conducting research with humans researchers must ensure the safety of the individuals. Unlike in the case with animals psychologists must first seek informed consent from the participant before engaging them in the study. Consequently, the researcher should provide an outline on to how they are to address the issue of confidentiality. There should be considerations on how the adverse conditions are to be addressed in case may arise during the study. In a nut shell, the researcher should address issues to do with maximization of benefits from the study, equitable selection of participants as well as autonomy (Sheepnsy, 2009).

In conclusion, research is an integral part of psychology and the benefits are numerous. Psychologists are faced with the dilemma of which subjects to use unlike other scientists due to the nature of their study. The use of humans in research is challenging in some cases where certain conditions have to be adhered to. The use of animals in such cases is preferable but is not without conflict. Psychologists have no option but to adhere to strict guidelines that safeguard these animals, so that the sacredness of life is maintained always. The question about the moral legality of using live samples for experiment still remains highly debatable.


Bennett, A. J (2012). Animal research: The bigger picture and why we need psychologists to speak out. Retrieved from:

Myers, D.G (2012) Psychology in Everyday Life. New York: Worth Publishers.

Sheepnsy, (2009). Why Do Psychologists Use Animal in Research.Retrieved from: