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Animal Research: Where Would You Draw The Line?


Today, a discussion about morality of animal research among the public provokes a diverse range of strong feelings and opinions. However, the moral issues of animal research has only recently in the past century or so 
become a topic worthy of serious debate. Historical evidence informs us animals have been used as models for biomedical research for over 2000 years. Early Greek physicians such as Aristotle (384-322 b.c) and Erasistratus (304-258 b.c) often routinely experimented on animals (Hajar, 2011) which included the use of vivisection to advance their understanding of the human body. This practice of course continued throughout history and is now the backbone for a large proportion of the scientific research conducted and produced today (, 2014). The necessity of animal experimentation as it stands today though is questioned now more than ever. Particularly with the use of primates and when experiments are very invasive and cause significant pain or suffering (, 2016). Therefore the morality of animal experimentation at its most fundamental level tends to hinge on, 1) what animals are used for experimentation and why, and 2) the point at which we conclude the risk, or infliction of harm and suffering on animals is worth the benefits gained. The distinctions between what animals people believe should or shouldn’t be subjugated to animal research seems somewhat arbitrary but can be explained by several factors including cultural and social biases which differ between countries (von Roten, 2012) and personal characteristics and traits which differ between people. The latter point that dictates whether it is morally acceptable to use animals for research strongly resembles utilitarianism, whatever action results in the greatest good for the greatest number (, 2016). These are arguably the two most salient points when questioning the ethics or morality of experimentation on animals. Efforts have been made to understand the views of the general public about the the ethical issues of animal experimentation, because ultimately, government policy and legislation, and in particular the direction and limits of scientific research and the majority public opinion are intimately tied (Shuttleworth and Frampton, 2015). Therefore several large surveys have been conducted to help investigate not just how the public feels about animal experimentation but why. This will help shape future research models and may change the way we use animals for research indefinitely. This review discusses a survey involving a sample of 100 members of the public of mixed demographics, somewhat representative of the population as whole, to investigate public opinions on what animals should be permitted for experimentation and any correlations present which may motivate such opinions.


The results taken from the survey showed a particular trend towards approving the use of “lower life forms” such as insects, slugs and reptiles and mammals we deem as food and pests. Nearly every subject condoned the use of slugs and insects with only three subjects opposing research on all animals altogether. Eighty-nine approved the use of reptiles whilst eighty-five approved the use of fish for research. Eighty-three people approved the use of food mammals and pest mammals for research. Only 10 people approved the use of primates and 20 people for the use of pet mammals for animal research.

(Fig 1) – Across a sample of 100 members of the public with various demographics representative of the general population, opinions on the use of particular animals for research are presented above.

A statistical analysis using Pearson Chi-squared test of independence (SPSS) was made to identify any correlations between owning a pet and the use of pet animals for research. The results found no significant correlation (pvalue 0.544) between previously or currently owning a pet and using pet animals for animal research. The total number of pet owners compared to non pet-owners, as shown in (Table 1) were almost equally divided (42 and 43 respectively) but the largest group of thirty-six people were those against the use of pet animals for research who didn’t own pets, whilst the second largest group of thirty-three were also against the use of pet animals who did own pets. The largest group of people approving the use of pet animals for research were pet owners of which nine approved compared to seven non-pet owners which approved the use of pet animals for research.

(Table 1) – Shows the frequency of pet owners and non-pet owners who approved of the use pet animals for research.


A dramatic shift in opposition is seen in (Fig 1) when it came to opinions on using primates and pet mammals for animal research compared with food and pest mammals and even more so compared to species outside of our Mammalia class. A growing objection in the use of primates is likely motivated morally by the explicit similarities we identify between ourselves and them. A more recently growing objection to research on primates is in part due to the highly controversial deprivation experiments which has recently prompted David Attenborough and 21 other experts to call for an end in the use of primates for research (Ted Jeory, 2016). However our data doesn’t reflect much of the larger polls carried out which shows around 44% of the UK public condone the use of primates for experiments (ECEAE, 2010) compared to 10% shown in (Fig 1). This must be interpreted with caution though, since many surveys combine other animals such as dogs with primates. Therefore it’s difficult to get an accurate and definitive picture of public opinion relating to specific animals in the use of research. A slightly lesser number, although still a majority of people in (Fig 1) still objected to pet animals for use in research. This likely stems from our emotional attachments or our cultural perceptions of pet animals which underpins our biases towards them as an influential factor in objection to their use (Wells and Hepper, 1997). When the number of pet animals approved for animal research is compared to the number of food animals permitted for research we must question whether this discrepancy is grounded in a logically sound rationale, given that some food animals display much higher levels of intelligence that pet animals (PETA, 2012). The findings reported in (Table 1) showed marginally more people without pets were against the use of animals for research than people who owned pets. Similarly, there was a marginal amount of people more who owned pets who approved the use of pet animals in research compared to those who didn’t own pets. Based on the findings owning a pet doesn’t appear to bias a persons opinion about the use of pet animals in research although public perceptions of pet animals certainly has been shown to be distinct (Research, 2009). Since there was only one vegan and little more than a few vegetarians there was not a big enough sample size to draw meaningful inferences about whether or not there is a correlation between the amount of animals foods a person consumes and the types of animals they permit for research. Public attitudes towards animal research has shifted over the last few decades in support against animal research
(Herzog et al. 2001; Moore 2003; Rowan and Loew 2001). A UK survey in 2014 found that out of 969 respondents questioned, 68% agreed that they “can accept the use of animals in research for medical purposes where there are no alternatives” (, 2014) compared to 76% who supported this notion in the 2010 survey (, 2012). However when investigating public attitudes towards animal testing, survey questions each year are often rephrased and also fail to specify the types of animals used for research purposes which may mislead to the simplification of a much more complex issue, both in question and response. Some members of the public are also ignorant to anything more than a superficial understanding of animal research and therefore may not be able to make properly informed opinions to begin with thereby reducing the credibility of those opinions. This may be reflected by the fact that 40% of the public who were asked about animal research wanted to know more about it (, 2012).


There are no correlations between owning a pet and permitting pet animals for research. There are, however, clear distinctions between what the public deem as a justifiable animal model for research. Many people agree pet animals and primates are distinctly different from the rest of the animals in question and deserve exclusion from research use with non-mammalian species accounting for a much higher approval rate for use in research. These are in part due to a reservation of bias towards animals such as primates and pet animals. Whether this is a logically and morally justified basis for which animals are to be used for animal research is highly questionable. Wording and phrasing of the questions are also important in changing the answer perspective which may also either improve or impair the quality of data received.

References (2016). Sir David Attenborough calls for end to brain experiments on monkeys | Cruelty Free International. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Dec. 2016].

ECEAE, (2010). ECEAE | Eurobarometer survey shows public concern on animal testing. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2016]. (2014). Public attitudes to animal testing – Press releases – GOV.UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2016]. (2016). Utilitarianism, Act and Rule | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Dec. 2016].

Hagelin, J., Carlsson, H. and Hau, J. (2003). An overview of surveys on how people view animal experimentation: some factors that may influence the outcome. Public Understanding of Science, 12(1), pp.67-81.

Hajar, R. (2011). Animal testing and medicine. Heart Views, 12(1), p.42.

Herzog H, Rowan A, Kossow D. Social attitude and animals. (2001) In: Salem DJ, Rowan AN, editors. The State of the Animals. Washington, DC: Humane Society Press; pp. 55–69.

Ormandy, E. and Schuppli, C. (2014). Public Attitudes toward Animal Research: A Review. Animals, 4(3), pp.391-408.

PETA. (2012). If Your Dog Tasted Like Pork, Would You Eat Her?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2016].

Research, N. (2009). Use of Dogs and Cats in Research: Public Perception and Evolution of Laws and Guidelines. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2016].

Rowan AN, Loew FM. (2001) Animal research: A review of developments, 1950-2000. In: Salem DJ, Rowan AN, editors. The State of the Animals 2001. Washington, DC: Humane Society Press;. pp. 111–120.

Shuttleworth, S. and Frampton, S. (2015). Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science. The Lancet, 385(9987), p.2568.

Ted Jeory, J. (2016). David Attenborough calls for end to ‘cruel’ brain tests on primates. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2016]. (2014). Forty reasons why we need animals in research | Understanding Animal Research. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Dec. 2016].

Von Roten, F. (2012). Public perceptions of animal experimentation across Europe. Public Understanding of Science, 22(6), pp.691-703.

Wells, D. and Hepper, P. (1997). Pet Ownership and Adults’ Views on the Use of Animals. Society & Animals, 5(1), pp.45-63.

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