The Use of Animal Models in Behavioural Neuroscience Research

B. Bovenkerk, F. Kaldewaij

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Animal models are used in experiments in the behavioural neurosciences that aim to contribute to the prevention and treatment of cognitive and affective disorders in human beings, such as anxiety and depression. Ironically, those animals that are likely to be the best models for psychopathology are also likely to be considered the ones that are most morally problematic to use, if it seems probable that (and if indeed they are initially selected as models because) they have experiences that are similar to human experiences that we have strong reasons to avoid causing, and indeed aim to alleviate (such as pain, anxiety or sadness). In this paper, against the background of contemporary discussions in animal ethics and the philosophy of animal minds, we discuss the views that it is morally permissible to use animals in these kinds of experiments, and that it is better to use less cognitively complex animals (such as zebrafish) than more complex animals (such as dogs). First, we criticise some justifications for the claim that human beings and more complex animals have higher moral status . We argue that contemporary approaches that attribute equal moral status to all beings that are capable of conscious strivings (e.g. avoiding pain and anxiety; aiming to eat and play) are based on more plausible assumptions. Second, we argue that it is problematic to assume that less cognitively complex animals have a lesser sensory and emotional experience than more complex beings across the board. In specific cases, there might be good reasons to assume that more complex beings would be harmed more by a specific physical or environmental intervention, but it might also be that they sometimes are harmed less because of a better ability to cope. Determining whether a specific experiment is justified is therefore a complex issue. Our aim in this chapter is to stimulate further reflection on these common assumptions behind the use of animal models for psychopathologies. In order to be able to draw more definite conclusions, more research will have to be done on the influence of cognitive complexity on the experience of (human and non-human) animals.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthical Issues in Behavioral Neuroscience
EditorsG. Lee, J. Illes, F. Ohl
Place of PublicationBerlin, Heidelberg
Number of pages320
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

NameCurrent topics in behavioural neuroscience


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