EPS and the Use of Animals in Psychological Research

The EPS represents psychologists who work in academia, industry and the health service. The EPS supports research efforts directed towards finding new treatments for psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and dementia. Research using animals has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution to this research.

Psychological research makes use of a wide range of techniques, including computer modelling and experiments involving humans, in order to understand mental processes and the functioning of the brain in the context of the whole behaving organism. In addition and only where appropriate, experiments using non-human animals make an essential and unavoidable contribution to our understanding of cognitive processes such as learning, memory, perception and attention, of the failure of these processes in mental illness, and of potential strategies for remediation.

Research in the UK involving the use of animals is regulated by the Home Office, in line with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. All such research requires the authorisation of a Project Licence, granted by the Home Secretary. Project Licences are required for each and every specific programme of research and, in line with the 3Rs, are awarded only when:

  1. the research objectives cannot be achieved using alternative techniques (e.g. computational modelling) or human participants;
  2. explicit assurance is provided that the research will use only the minimum number of animals needed to reach a valid conclusion;
  3. every effort is made to minimise any distress experienced by the animals.

In addition, the potential benefits of the research must justify the use of animals, taking into account the likely experiences of the animals concerned, and research scientists are licensed to carry out experiments on animals only when they have provided evidence that they are aware of their responsibility to optimise animal welfare in their research and when they have received appropriate training approved by the Home Office. As part of the process for the granting of a Project Licence, all applications are scrutinised by a local ethical review panel that includes lay members, researchers and named animal care and welfare officers.

The EPS supports the use of animals in psychological research in the UK where it is essential and unavoidable, and the thorough scrutiny of this research by the UK Government Home Office. The activities of the EPS supports its members’ commitment to the development of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) and a culture of respect and care for animals throughout their lives.

Further reading:

  1. Home Office:
  2. Understanding Animal Research:
  3. National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research:
  4. The Medical Research Council:
  5. European Science Foundation Policy on animal use:
  6. Academy of Medical Science:
  7. Coalition for Medical Progress:
  8. The Biosciences Federation Animal Science Group:
  9. Guidelines from the British Psychological Society’s Standing Advisory Committee on the Welfare of Animals in Psychology (developed in cooperation with the EPS)