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Using Animal Subjects in Research: Issues & Considerations

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  • 0:06 Background on the Ground
  • 2:13 Animal Research Guidelines
  • 4:11 Animal Considerations
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Using animals in research is not something that is undertaken lightly. We will look at ethical and federal laws put into place to ensure animals used in research are not abused despite the experimentation.

Background on the Ground

The goal of science is to increase our knowledge and understanding of the world around us. Psychology, the study of the human mind, is actually a broad field concerned with sensations, decision making, and motivation. Some of these areas are easily studied. For instance, would you rather have a healthy, multigrain slice of bread and a piece of fruit or an unhealthy-for-you, extremely sweet piece of cake with fruit-flavored icing? Decision making like this can be studied easily by having the subjects discuss their decision-making process. If they're a health nut, they'll choose the bread. If they're like me, they'll choose the cake.

But, what if we wanted to see what else helps us make the decision, the parts of the brain we can't access by using words? For example, what if we wanted to study decision making when the decision-making part of the brain is damaged (this would be the frontal lobe)? Our options are to wait for a group of people to have that specific type of damage and no other, and study them, or to create the damage in people. The first option isn't feasible because brain damage is never localized. The second option requires us to destroy the brain of a human being. So, an animal is used instead. It doesn't give us the same information as a destroying a human brain, but it also doesn't come with that nasty jail time consequence.

So, why are animals used?

  • Time management, since animals develop and mature quicker than humans. This allows for research to be conducted in 2 years rather than in 30.
  • In situations where a risk or danger to a person is too great, an animal is put in their place.
  • The need for specific genetic abnormalities can be bred into short-lived species instead of people.
  • Behavioral training is allowable in animals, but not in people.
  • Specific animals can be selected based on cost of upkeep and level of training required to handle them.

Animal Research Guidelines

Animals endure experiments too dangerous or too damaging for people. There are ethical and federal, state, and local laws in place to protect animals from abuse. The American Psychological Association's Ethical Code cites that animals should be acquired, cared for, used, and disposed of in compliance with federal, state, and local laws. The code further requires the psychologist in charge to be trained in research methods and experienced in the care of lab animals. The psychologist in charge is to supervise all procedures, as he is ultimately responsible for everything that occurs in the lab.

The federal law mentioned is the Animal Welfare Act, which sets minimum standards. The Animal Welfare Act requires minimum standards of care and treatment to be provided for certain animals bred for research. Some of the features of the law require:

  • Registration of research facilities that conduct animal research
  • Where research animals can be purchased from
  • Record keeping of where animals come from and what happened to them
  • Standards of handling, housing, feeding, watering, sanitation, ventilation, shelter from weather, adequate veterinary care, and separation by species
  • Anesthesia and consultation with veterinary staff are both required with the goal of reducing pain and distress
  • Training is required for anyone who is to work with the animals

Keeping up with all of this is not cheap, and animals and veterinarians are both very expensive. Failing to follow any standard put down by the Animal Welfare Act can result in fines and, if severe enough, criminal charges of animal cruelty or neglect. So, there is a significant amount of investment taken to make sure animal subjects are well taken care of.

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