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Animals in Scientific Research: Ethical Guidelines Essay

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Updated: Nov 2nd, 2021


Psychology covers a wide rage of research topics and applied activities. Some of these activities involve teaching and carrying out research on the behavior of animals. This contributes to the comprehension of fundamental principles motivating behavior as well as advancing the welfare of animals and human beings. Ethical concerns authorize that psychologists think about the costs and benefits of the procedures they carry out on animals before they go on with their research.

The attainment, care, shelter, use and disposition of animals should comply with a set moral code. The American Psychological Association (APA) developed some guidelines for psychologists to use as they work with animals. These guidelines as well as theories of elements of moral philosophy will be looked into in the following paragraphs.


Rachels looks at some theories of moral philosophy. According to him, ethical subjectivism theory asserts that people have opinions, but this is just what they are. People’s opinions concerning moral issues are founded on feelings and hence there is no general statement that can be viewed as true. On the other hand, simple subjectivism theory is Hume’s proposition and states that morality is just a sentiment and not a fact (Rachels). Moral facts are therefore only true if there facts to support them. The theory on divine command in contrast looks at ethics and morality in terms of God’s law which is quite the reverse to personal feelings. Basing our moral opinions on religion means there are many obstacles to be overcome (Rachels, 84).

The theory of natural law appears more reasonable. Lafollette (348) agrees with Rachels that it is however problematic for people to think about the issue of morality in terms of science and nature. The theory is considerate to human nature and based on a subjective set of principles. Rachels’ work questions human nature in their willingness to commit selfless acts.

From Rachels’ work (191), it is in order to hypothesize that it is wrong to endanger a human life in order to fulfill the needs of another. Moral opinions have to be supported by sound logic and morality requires neutral thought of the parties involved. While animals are used in the place of animals because they are thought to be more suitable and the use of humans unethical, animals too should be handled with the moral principles befitting them. They too have life and rights which are often ignored. It is for this reason that the following guidelines in their use should be observed:

Research justification

Before research scientists carry out their activities on animals, a clear scientific purpose should be identified. This means that there should be a comprehensible expectation that the research will serve to increase knowledge of the human perception on the processes behind development, maintenance, change, control and biological importance of behavior. In addition, the research should determine the validity and universality of previous research. The study should also aim at increasing understanding of the type of animal under study besides providing results that are of use to the health and welfare of animals and humans.

Additionally, the research purpose should of enough importance to justify the use of the animal in question. Just as humans would be caused distress if the study was carried out on them, psychologists should know that procedures that would cause pain on humans will also cause pain on animals. Besides, the animal chosen for study should be suitable to answer problem posed. In this case, the researcher should consider using non-animal species for the research if they are likely to serve the same purpose. If this is not possible, then they should consider minimizing the number of animals.

In order to verify the validity of research, an appropriate animal care committee should review protocol and ensure that the procedures involved are appropriate and kind. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the psychologist to keep an eye on the research and animal welfare throughout the research to guarantee sustained justification for that research.


The team involved in the research should be familiar with all the guidelines provided. Since behavior is the main concern in the animals, personnel should be conversant with the behavior trends of the animals in their care. This will be necessary in identifying abnormal behavior that could warn of health problems. Research supervisors should also give clear instruction in the procedures, care, maintenance and treatment of the animals. Each individual’s duties should conform to their competency, training and experience (Lafollette).

Acquisition, care and shelter

Animals that are not bred by the researchers should be acquired in compliance with the law, whether they are got from other people or the wild. The animals also deserve human care and healthy conditions in the shelter facilities. Psychologists are encouraged to enrich the environments in which these animals are kept.

Experimental processes

This is where more humane care is demanded. The studies should involve no aversive stimulation or distress to the animals. In case there is need for alternative behavior from the specimen, procedures that involve minimum discomfort should be used even when they are compatible with the research. Researchers are advised to reasonably test pain on themselves. In addition, procedures where animals are taken through anesthesia are acceptable. In case the procedure involved results in harm to the anima, the research should be testified and proof that alternative species could not be used shown (Lafollette, 128).


In making moral decisions regarding use of animals in research, it is important to consider their rationality and justification for research. Animals, like people, should be treated with the respect they deserve. This might not seem a logical assessment of personal responsibility where morality is concerned. However, it is rational as well as functional and morality cannot simply be passed on the basis of logic. Rachels’ theories are entrenched in rationality and take into account concepts of what is good treatment for animals.


Lafollette, Hugh (ed.). Ethics in practice: An anthology, 3rd edition, Wiley-Blackwell, 2006, pp. 768.

Rachels, James & Rachels, Stuart (ed.). The elements of philosophy, 5th edition, McGraw-Hill Publishers, 2006, pp. 240.

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