Human Rights, Animal Wrongs?

Knight, S., Bard, K., Vrij, A., & Brandon, D. (2010). Human rights, animal wrongs? Exploring attitudes toward animal use and possibilities for change. Society and Animals, 18, 251-272.

Controversy surrounding the use of animals in research has increasingly affected psychologists and the field of psychology. Knight, Bard, Vrij, and Brandon (2010) conducted a series of studies to better understand the beliefs that underlie attitudes about animal use.  The authors questioned laypersons recruited from public places in Portsmouth, U.K. about the acceptability of types of animal use.  Using animals for medical research or dissection was viewed as more acceptable than for personal decoration or entertainment (such as hunting).  Responses to a beliefs questionnaire indicated that one of the strongest predictors of attitudes about animal use was whether participants believed there were alternatives to using animals (the “perception of choice”).  In a second study, Knight and colleagues investigated whether scientists and animal welfarists would differ in level of empathy toward humans and animals.  As predicted, animal welfarists were significantly less empathic toward humans and more empathic toward animals than laypersons or scientists.  Finally, the authors manipulated the “perception of choice” belief to see if this might alter attitudes about animal use.  Students were either assigned to a control group, given information emphasizing the availability of alternatives to using animals in research, or given information emphasizing the lack of alternatives to using animals in research.  Results showed that participants who read about availability of alternatives were significantly less supportive of the use of animals in medical research. In addition to identifying beliefs underlying attitudes about animal use, this study provided further support for a contemporary view of attitudes as temporary and flexible, as opposed to the traditional view of attitudes as relatively fixed.

Making Connections

Animal research
Attitude change

Media Supplement

Listen to an animal rights poem from the 1770s, “A Mouse Asks for Mercy.” [4 min 8 sec]

The National Institutes of Health will not be issuing any new awards for research involving chimpanzees until new standards are in place. Hear about this decision in this NPR podcast . [4 min 43 sec]

This entry was posted in Animal Welfare, Social Psychology.