Regulations

In response to such concerns, the U.S. Congress amended the Animal Welfare Act in 1985 so that it would cover laboratory animals as well as pets.

(Rats, mice, birds, and farm animals are specifically excluded.) Although these regulations do not state specifically what experimental procedures may or may not be done on laboratory animals, they do set standards for humane housing, feeding, and transportation. Later amendments were added in 1991 in an effort to protect the psychological well-being of nonhuman primates.

In addition, the Animal Welfare Act requires that all research on warmblooded animals (except those listed above) be approved by a committee before it can be carried out. Each committee (called an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, or IACUC) is composed of at least five members and must include an animal researcher; a veterinarian; someone with an area of expertise in a nonresearch area, such as a teacher, lawyer, or member of the clergy; and someone who is unaffiliated with the institution where the experimentation is being done who can speak for the local community. In this way, those scientists who do animal experiments are held accountable for justifying the appropriateness of their use of animals as research subjects.

The APA has its own set of ethical guidelines for psychologists conducting experiments with animals. The APA guidelines are intended for use in addition to all local, state, and federal laws that apply, including the Animal Welfare Act. In addition to being a bit more explicit in describing experimental procedures that require special justification, the APA guidelines require psychologists to have their experiments reviewed by local IACUCs and do not explicitly exclude any animals. About 95 percent of the animals used in psychology are rodents and birds (typically rats, mice, and pigeons), which are currently not governed by the Animal Welfare Act. It seems likely that federal regulations will change to include these animals at some point in the future, and according to surveys, the majority of psychologists believe that they should be. Finally, psychologists are encouraged to improve the living environments of their animals and consider nonanimal alternatives for their experiments whenever possible.

Alternatives to animal experimentation are becoming more widespread as technology progresses. Computer modeling and bioassays (tests using biological materials such as cell cultures) cannot replace animal experimentation in the field of psychology, however, because computers and cell cultures will never exhibit all the properties of mind that psychologists want to study. At the same time, the use of animals as psychological research subjects will never end the need for study of human subjects. While other animals may age, mate, fight, and learn much as humans do, they will never speak, compose symphonies, or run for office. Animal experimentation continues to have an important, though limited, role in psychological research.

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