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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Animal Research and Human Empathy

So today's post is long it is a paper I needed to write for class. The long version is below, this is the nutshell version. Human's have empathy for other species. The further we get away from species that look like and act like us the less empathy we have for them. When writing we need to build on this empathy and recognize few readers are going to fall in love with a main character that looks like a cockroach. If you want more read below :)

While reading these articles the question that kept coming up was, why do we not want to do animal research? Festing and Wilkinson (2007) explain in their article “The ethics of animal research” that if animal research was done away with “it would have enormous and severe consequences for scientific research.” Overmier and Carroll (2001) recall the many benefits that science has provided for our societies and race. Further, they explain that many of the comforts that we have today are due to the scientific studies that have been conducted in the past, many of which included animal “models.”
            So, the question, why do we not want to do animal research, comes back to mind. Saucier and Cain (2006) also looked into this question and set up a study in which they examined the beliefs of individuals in why they would or would not want to do animal research. They came up with several reasons why people believed the way they believe. It seemed to me that the beliefs centered around knowledge of the individual about the procedures and necessity of the research conducted on the animal subject.
            Festing and Wilkinson (2007) discuss the importance of knowledge and how the public should be made more aware of the process in which animals are used to further research. In a past class the professor discussed the importance of educating the public on the projects that are being conducted. The example that was used was a facility that was going to be used to store toxic waste in Arizona. The project was part of a plan to work with several states in order to meet requirements of storing hazardous wastes including nuclear. Those in charge of the project did not educate the public on the project and so it was protested by those against the project using scare tactics that eventually ended the project. To date, nothing is being done with the wastes in the state. If the public had been made aware of the entire details then they would not have fought against the project because they would have realized that the most dangerous waste, nuclear, was going to a different state. This is how I think we, as researchers, get ourselves into trouble because we do not educate the public about what we are doing.
            Still, the question comes back, why do we not want to use animals in research? It may seem strange that I keep coming back to the same question but I think it has something to do with what the articles are talking about, education. I think about the general public and what they believe. They trust the internet more than the professional, the guy on Dr. Phil more than the psychologist they have been seeing for years and the late night radio host talking about aliens than what is right in front of them. This gets me to the point of why I think many people are against animal research.
            I have never been against animal research but, I found myself questioning this while reading the articles, and like I said earlier, the question why kept coming up. I realized, for me, that it was a matter of putting myself in the animals place. How would I feel if an advanced race, aliens, came, invaded the earth and decided that I would be a good “model” for their research. Images of movies flashed through my mind as I envisioned myself lying on a steel table unable to move. Yes, it is ridiculous, but it is also what I perceive as a great strength of the human race, empathy.
            As humans, we have the ability to empathize with not only others of our kind but also other species. The further we get away from a species that we can identify with, the less empathy we have for that species. Such as a cockroach, I can smash it without thinking twice. However, to smash a bunny, I don’t think I could do it. This ability for empathy of similar species is well known to writers. A writer needs to gain the audiences’ sympathy for the main character or the book will fail. In order to do this the main character must be similar to the reader in not only psychological characteristics but, also physical characteristics. A good example of this is Avatar, even though the alien race was not human they looked very human and we could identify with them.
            This takes me to the main point of what I am getting at. We identify with animals because of our fear and empathy. We can picture ourselves, our parents, and our kids in similar situations. For this reason it is so important that researchers educate the public on how and why the studies are being conducted. They need to help the public become more aware of the benefits of the research. However, more importantly, educate the public on the costs of not doing the research. I don’t think anyone would want to go back to the days that Overmier and Marilyn (2001) describe, “…infant and mother mortality rates were very high. Those children who did survive were battered by a variety of fatal or debilitating diseases (e.g., whooping cough, measles, rheumatic fever, and infantile paralysis).”
            Animal research, at this point in the history of man, is a necessary evil, but that does not mean that it cannot be done humanely. It is also important that we as future researchers understand the importance of educating the masses on what we are doing and more importantly why we want to do animal research.


  1. you know the treatment of animals is one thing we look at for antisocial plays out...

  2. When I was in college I did a lot of part-time clerical work for departments that were posted in the main hall. I was horrified about one job (and couldn't take it) for the vet school when I learned they deliberately broke bones to set (studying the most effective healing process, etc., and giving the students practice, I suppose.) I know my current pet probably benefits from such research, but I still balk at it. I keep wondering-- what gives us the right over these trusting animals? And the assumption that we can do this does play out into wider arenas in the wrong hands: Once penicillin experiments for syphillis were conducted on black inmates; and there is the memory of Mengel . . .

  3. I agree that the characters have to be humanistic. I remember reading Watership Down as a pre-teen and because their language and culture were humanistic, I was able to relate. I don't think I even pictured them as rabbits (even though I knew they were).

  4. I like April's comment on how as long as the culture and language is humanistic we relate to them. When watching a movie we never forget what the aliens look like because every time they are in the scene we see them. For us as writers if we don't mention how the alien looks the reader's will make their own image of them. We don't always use physical differences to make someone seem alien.

    I enjoyed your paper. Nice job.

  5. Great comments everyone thanks!


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