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Critically consider the use of non-human animals in psychological research

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Introduction

Critically consider the use of non-human animals in psychological research Non-human animals are used in psychological research for a variety of reasons. They may be used so that we can better understand the behaviour of animals, which is beneficial in its own right in terms of understanding the world. However, understanding animals' behaviour may allow for a better understanding of the human brain, particularly in situations where it may be considered unethical, or even illegal, to use human participants. Scientifically, such practice has a number of advantages and disadvantages, but the ethics of their use are more open for debate. The scientific advantages are largely methodological. It is possible, for example, to expose animals to prolonged periods of isolation, which would not be viable with humans; this allows study into privation, among other areas of psychology. Another advantage is that much more control can be exerted onto animals than can be onto humans. This allows for a more scientific investigation of psychological phenomena because cause and effect are much more easily inferred. ...read more.

Middle

This is advantageous as it allows researchers to consider several criteria before carrying out their research, preventing research from going ahead just because the certainty of benefit is high (even if animal suffering is very high as well). However, it is often criticised for being too simplistic: it is impossible to quantify the amount of suffering an animal will receive, for example. It is also hard to assess the quality of research before the research has actually been carried out. This means that Bateson's decision cube may not be a reliable method of assessing the ethics of carrying out a study. There may be times when animal suffering can be justified. For example, if the research is going to produce significant benefits for humans, or even for the type of animals used in the study. An example of this is in stress research, where animals may be subjected to high levels of stress or given treatments to test if they will reduce stress levels. ...read more.

Conclusion

These still do not take into account the strictest notion of animal rights; that is, that they have the same (or similar) rights as humans. This would include the right not to participate in research, or to withdraw at any time during the research or retrospectively. As this is impossible for animals to do, it could be argued that psychological research using animals is unethical in itself. There are other modern approaches that could be used as alternatives to animal research, such as brain scans and computer modelling of cognitive processes. In conclusion, the ethics of using animals in psychological research is debateable, but certain uses of them may be considered more acceptable than others. Scientifically, their use for studying animal behaviour of course carries advantages, but extrapolation of their behaviour to explain human behaviour may not be suitable; or more suitable with some animals than with others. Nonetheless, animal psychological research, although still commonplace, is becoming less frequent and less invasive, in favour of alternative methods of research. Clive Newstead ...read more.

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