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Using animals in psychological research

November 25, 2011

Often in psychology animals are used as participants in research. Not only can it be seen as unethical but also unvalid.

Animals are used a lot in research into behavioral psychology- such as in Skinner’s experiments on pigeons and rats and also in Pavlov’s work on dogs. These experiments were very useful looking into how behaviour is learnt and formed basis for many theories.

In Skinners research with pigeons, in order for it to be effective he underfed the pigeons and reduced them to just 75% of their average body weight so they were permanently hungry. This can be seen as unethical and cruel- is it fair to put animals through tests to gain research?

Not only this but humans are very different to pigeons; humans can reason and have much higher intelligence levels so we cannot generalise this to us. Pigeons may learn through operant conditioning but they are not in the same situations as humans: they are not manipulated by media or restricted by law and they are not put through an education system.

Because of this I believe that animals should not be used in psychological research, it is unethical and unfair and does not gain valuable research.


Skinner, B.F Superstition in the pigeon Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol 38(2), Apr 1948, 168-172. doi:10.1037/h0055873

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One Comment
  1. Allthough you state animal research in unvalid, in some cases this is not true. Without certain studies on animals being conducted, we would not be as advanced in psychology today. It is relevant that you have mentioned the Pavlov and Skinner studies as these had a massive impact on what we learnt through this research. I do agree with you when you say it can be cruel. Another good example of animal research being considered cruel is the Harlow monkey study ( This study involved seperating baby monkeys from their mothers and keeping them in complete isolation for a year. Allthough Harlow tried to restore the monkeys back to reality, this never worked and the monkeys remained psychologically disturbed. When taking this into consideration, this is when it is considered cruel and this kind of research in my opinion had no relevance to us as it is not something we would do to a human mother and baby. On the other hand, animals are our closest relation and allthough not exactly identical, it is the only way we can perform such studdies without using humans and we can make generalisations to us.

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