Public Support of Vivisection is On A Case By Case Basis
An Animal Rights Article from


August 2015

Animal research has been a controversial topic for a very long time. In fact, the emergence of animal advocacy has deep roots in the early anti-vivisection movement in England, where incidents such as The Brown Dog Affair were catalyzing moments that engaged the public and raised awareness of the plight of animals in laboratories, and more broadly.

Since then, the battle over the hearts and minds of the general public has been fought by animal advocates and scientists alike. For the most part, the general public is not an active participant in vivisection, but both scientists and advocates try to sway the general public to their side. Public support is key, as a great deal of animal experimentation is directly or indirectly supported by public funds, and some advocacy groups that highlight this fact in particular. Still, gauging public attitudes around vivisection can be a difficult and confusing task.

This literature review seeks to bring some clarity about the public support of vivisection, by looking less at a snapshot of current attitudes, and trying to get a sense of why the public supports (or doesn't support) certain practices on a broader level, not simply tied to one time period. The researchers of this study note that there is a gap in current research because "there is often no distinction made between different types of animal use and there appears to be an underlying assumption that people’s attitudes are uni-dimensional." They also point out that many studies related to public attitudes don't disclose all the methodological details of their work, and in some cases "the questions that make up these surveys are worded in biased ways, thus compromising the value of the results." Here, they sift through a variety of literature to try to get at a clearer picture of who supports vivisection and why.

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Demographically, the literature review found that women were less likely to support vivisection than men and, though some literature suggests that younger people are less supportive than older people, there isn't a lot of hard evidence to underpin this claim. People with rural backgrounds who have a more "practical" or "working" relationship with animals are more supportive of vivisection, while people who have companion animals and have positive relationships with animals may be less supportive of vivisection. Some studies found that, in particular, being Christian was an indicator of support for animal research, while another study found that people who are absolutist and idealistic tended to show the lowest support for animal research.

However, demographics aren't the only factors at play. The study found that the types of animals involved and what experiments they were used for is a key factor in how much the public supports particular research. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people tend to support projects that use animals that are generally perceived to be "less intelligent" or "less sentient." Projects that involve cats, dogs, and other companion animals do not receive a great deal of support, and projects that involve neotenous animals tend to be supported less as well. Genetic modification of animals is generally seen as negative, as is testing on animals to determine the safety of cosmetics. Research for vaccines and disease treatments was viewed more positively, while the availability of alternatives to animal models increases opposition to animal testing.

Though many of the results of this review may be intuitive, the findings should remind advocates that vivisection is not a black and white issue for the general public. People's feelings are almost entirely contextual, a complex and confusing mix of ideas and beliefs that makes advocating for an end to all vivisection a difficult task to accomplish. Strategically, it may make more sense to evaluate various possible inroads that can be made, and work hard to achieve particular goals that can bring about an incremental abolition of vivisection. If the general public is particularly supportive of measures that would limit or ban experimentation on certain species or for particular reasons, advocates may be able to use that victory to leverage support for further goals. Ending vivisection will require a great deal of public support to pressure governments, universities, and corporations to stop the practice. Understanding where the public's hearts lie will be crucial in gaining that support.

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