Concerning the morality of animal experimentation to understand human behavior and manufacture drugs to improve human mental health--many say that it is better to test animals than people. Many say, as do I, that it is better to ethically test humans concerning human conditions. "Far from asking what minimal harm or suffering we can inflict upon animals for human use, the Generosity Paradigm insists that humans must bear for themselves whatever ills may flow from not experimenting upon animals rather than sanction a system of institutionalized abuse". (Linzey 40) Linzey’s Generosity Paradigm of the 1990’s correlates to the view of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226): "Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission—to be of service to them wherever they require it."

You will note that references concerning kindness toward animal creation stems from a Christian perspective, responding to one aspect of the love of Jesus toward the "lesser". In addition, those familiar with Genesis will note that when God created animals as helpmates to Adam, none were found to be suitable. This alone is food for thought concerning using animals for the presumed benefit of humans.

Let me preface the following pages to say that I care about people. Yet, I share the view of Abraham Lincoln: "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being."

In all fairness, if anything good came from psychological testing of animals, they are that: (1) "Human physiology resembles that of many other animals. That is why animal experiments have led to treatments for human diseases—insulin for diabetes, vaccines to prevent polio and rabies, transplants to replace defective organs." (Myer (34); and (2) test results show animals are emotionally and developmentally similar to people.

Regarding point (1) In his textbook , Psychology, Myer is discussing testing other than psychological, and each one of his remarks has a separate ethical argument of its own. Keep in mind, too, that although physiologically similar, animals do not share our flesh. For example, although humans and chimpanzees are closest in makeup, HIV infected chimps cannot get AIDS. This point is expressed Biblically: "All flesh is not the same; men have one kind of flesh, animals have another…" (1 Corinthians 15.39, NIV). Concerning point (2), this finding should be embraced by all science ending unnecessary laboratory experiments and torture, especially since animals have similar emotions to ours (they realize what is happening to them but cannot reason why).

A few laboratory psychology studies using animals as subjects follow:

  • Harry Harlow used infant monkeys, separated from their mothers, to raise them in cages with two artificial, inanimate, mothers. One mother was made of wire with a feeding bottle, the other made of foam rubber and cheesecloth. The result of the experiments was that mothering did not center on nourishment, but comfort. When these socially deprived monkeys were put in unfamiliar surroundings, they responded in pure, uncontrollable terror. (Myer 95, 97).
  • Harlow also took rhesus monkeys, only six weeks old, and put them in solitary confinement for 45 days. Used was a "depression chamber" made of stainless steel to "reproduce a ‘well of despair.’" (Masson and McCarthy 102). All the babies were permanently impaired. "Even when months had passed since their experience, the once-chambered monkeys were listless, incurious, and almost completely asocial, huddling in one spot and clasping themselves. No knowledge gained, no point proved, can justify such abuse." (Masson and McCarthy 102). Had Harlow studied orphanages and mental care institutes anywhere in the world, he most likely would have discovered the same results. Perhaps he could also have been a pioneer developing programs to alleviate the lack of emotional attachment in those institutions–without the abuse associated with his research.
  • In the study of hunger, rats had parts of their brains altered and removed to identify reasons for biological weight gain and loss. (Myer 370) Myer cites N. E. Miller in American Psychologist (1995) as claiming this experimentation explained why, in some instances, patients with tumors near the base of their brains overeat and gain weight. (369) Note that the results were only in some instances, proving nothing. Could not the same results be met by analyzing brain scans and/or surgery results? Those who have pet rats can testify that rats are intelligent, social, and try to relate to those who love and nourish them. PETA’s Animal Times reports:

…[Dr.] Neal Barnard, rescued a rat from a psychology course in college and learned that rats-–if given a chance to show it–are playful, clean and intelligent: "If I was lying on my back, Ratsky would come and stand on my chest. She would wait to be petted and, if I didn’t pay her enough attention, she would lightly nip my nose and run away." (16)

  • Following is the result of an experiment concerning learned helplessness (Myers 446):

When dogs were strapped in a harness and given repeated shocks, with no opportunity to avoid them, they learned a sense of helplessness. When later placed in another situation where they could escape the punishment by merely leaped a hurdle, they cowered without hope.

The text continues stating that this is true of experiments with people as well. It was senseless to do the experiment on dogs, especially when the tests were performed with people anyway!

  • Another learned helplessness experimenter was:

"raising rhesus monkeys in solitude, in black-walled isolation chambers, from infancy until six months, to induce ‘social helplessness’. Then he taped each young monkey to a cruciform restraining device and placed it, for an hour a day, in a cage with other young monkeys. After initial withdrawal, the unrestrained monkeys poked and prodded the restrained monkeys, pulling their hair, gouged their eyes, and pried their mouths open. The restrained monkeys struggled, but could not escape. All they could do is cry out." (Masson and McCarthy 103,104)

These little monkeys never recovered from their ordeal. People who have survived Hitler’s holocaust remember details of their ordeal and most certainly could express psychological results of learned helplessness.

  • In examples of research concerning the brain, cats have had the top of their brainstems and upper brain regions severed from the rest of their brains. As the experiment continued, the cats became comatose and ultimately died. (Myer 55) Monkeys have had fingers removed. Animals, although a small percentage, are subject to electric shocks. Pro-experimentationists claim that it is okay because this occurs in a small percentage of animal experiments and is now mostly limited to small rodents and birds. These individuals also claim conditions concerning experimentation have greatly improved due to federal laws. My counter is that, if you were a rat, in the small percentage to be shocked or mentally altered, would you take solace in knowing that not many others are? If you were a small rodent or bird, would you take solace in knowing it is okay to experiment on you and not on dogs? If you were confined to a laboratory cage for life, would you take solace knowing there are laws to protect you? What you would do is know that many of the animal protection laws are not followed and you are a victim. What is even sadder than the experiments dreamed up, is the fact that once the animals’ usefulness is over, they are usually destroyed. There are few retirement homes for laboratory animals.

What is the psychology behind all animal experimentation? Or, as Barnard queries: "Why is burning animals, irradiating them, locking them in cages, and killing them considered acceptable in science?" (1996)

When I was a student in psychology, it was routine to force metal bars through the eardrums of live rats to hold them still in a stereotaxic frame. When I complained that even anesthetized rats would not enjoy waking up with broken eardrums, my professor joked that the rats were not going to be listening to their stereos anyway. Since that time, I have come to note the importance of several psychological factors that allow abuse to continue. (Barnard 1996)

Notes on two of the six points made by Barnard follow:

    1. The Failure of Inhibition. There is…substantial scientific literature linking aggressiveness toward animals and aggressiveness toward people…Children who cannot control their aggressive impulses toward animals will frequently grow into adults who have difficult[y] inhibiting aggressive impulses toward people.

      Aggression is not usually due to sadism. The professor who asked me to break rats’ eardrums was not deriving pleasure from the pain of animals. Rather, he was unable to appreciate the suffering he was causing. His problem, like that of most animal researchers, was that his values were developed in a culture of science that does not recognize suffering, and fosters defenses against the recognition of suffering and death of sentient beings other than humans.

    2. Rationalization. We tend to defend that to which we are accustomed

….Animal experimenters under criticism have routinely and creatively sought links to images (such as afflicted children) that might justify their work. (1996)

It would be interesting to see the results of a study—if a psychologist would choose to take on the task—of finding out if those who experiment on animals suffer from a classic case of sublimation. Perhaps they were aggressive children who wanted to torture animals, but they saved that privilege for adulthood in the name of science.

Linzey puts the psychology of experimentation in very simple terms: "In all cases, scientists have their own individual lives, their own needs, and their own pattern of behaviour. Of course human interests are morally important, but they cannot claim to be the only morally important interests."

Masson and McCarthy state:

The basic idea seems to be that if something does not feel pain the way a human being feels pain, it is permissible to hurt it….An animal experimenter will almost inevitably deny that animals suffer in the same way humans do. Otherwise he would implicitly admit to cruelty. (1995)

In summary, there are individuals who believe animal experiments have helped them regain their lives. It could be admitted that research has helped us get to know the needs of animals in captivity and steps have been taken to improve the animals’ lives. Linzey refutes: "The question is, however, not whether we gain from these present practices but rather whether they are ill-gotten gains." I believe the help animals gave could very well have been discovered through experiments with consenting human subjects (especially today with organisms being grown in test tubes from human cells), and with studying animals in their natural environs.

Note: I do not condone the use of embryonic cells. Stem cell research can be done through the use of fat taken from liposuction.

Secondly, people who have the privilege of sharing their homes with pets and who observe their behavior can tell researchers how their pets respond to various situations. Those who study animals in the field learn more about social interaction and emotions than any Harlow study. Masson and McCarthy report: "The microbiologist Catherine Roberts condemns Harry Harlow’s ‘odious’ experiments on rhesus monkeys pointing out that they ‘degrade the humanness of those who designed and perpetrated them’". (232) Masson and McCarthy go on to say: "It is clear that animals form lasting friendships, are frightened of being hunted, have a horror of dismemberment, wish they were back in the safety of their den, despair for their mates, look out for and protect their children whom they love." (232)

It was a great relief to me that those who have personally and validly studied animals and their behavior substantiate that which I have innately known. The organization Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals actively promote studies in the wild and natural surroundings, as opposed the manipulating of events in a laboratory. Stewardship of God’s creation is now being taken seriously by more and more Christian theologians who spread the news that animals do not belong to us, but to God: "The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it." (Psalm 24.1 NIV) This is evident with the group organization "Evangelic Environmental Network" which includes, among others, a charity called "Christian Society of the Green Cross". Linzey’s opinion relating to our responsibilities to animals is so well stated, and one etched in my heart:

I suggest that we are to be present to creation as Christ is present to us. When we speak of human superiority we speak of such a thing properly only and in so far as we speak not only of Christlike lordship but also of Christlike service. There can be no lordship without service and no service without lordship. Our special value in creation consists in being of special value to others. (32, 33)


Notes: 17-August-2003

Works Cited

Barker, Kenneth, ed. The NIV Study Bible 10th Anniversary Edition. Michigan:

Zondervan, 1995.

Bernard, M.D., Neal D. The Psychology of Abuse. Resource paper from

Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. New York, 1996.

In Defense of Animals. Great Minds Think Alike. California, (undated)

Linzey, Andrew. Animal Theology. London: SCM, 1995.

Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff, and., McCarthy, Susan. When Elephants Weep. New York:

Delacorte, 1995.

Myers, David G. (1998). Psychology Fifth Edition. Michigan: Worth, 1998.

"Rats Deserve Better." PETA’s Animal Times Spring 1999: 16.


Barker, K. ed. (1995). The NIV Study Bible 10th Anniversary Edition. Michigan:


Linzey, A. (1995). Animal Theology. London: SCM.

Masson, J. M., McCarthy, S. (1995). When Elephants Weep. New York: Delacorte

Myers, David G. (1998). Psychology Fifth Edition. Michigan: Worth.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Miscellaneous reference materials.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Miscellaneous reference materials.

Zodhiates, S. ed. (1990) The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible. New American Standard Bible. Tennessee: AMG.

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