Public attitudes toward animal research

Public attitudes toward animal research: Some international comparisons. Pifer, L., Shimizu, K., & Pifer, R., Vol 2, No. 2, 1994, 95-113.
The use of animals in scientific research has become an increasingly controversial topic since the 80s. The status quo in animal research is no longer acceptable to some portion of the public. The perception of the relative necessity of the use of animals in research is important with respect to questioning if animal research is the only option available. Many of the studies have utilized college students or animal rights activists rather than the general public. As a result, few comparisons can be made across time or across nations regarding public attitudes toward animal research.

A cross-cultural study was conducted to comparatively analyze the public’s attitudes toward the use of animals in scientific research in 15 different nations. The data was obtained from a series of surveys as part of a larger study that collected and stored data from 1989 to 1992 in the archive of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy at the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

Results showed that the highest level of opposition to animal research was found in France, where 68% of the population either strongly disagreed or disagreed with the statement regarding the use of animals in scientific research. Similarly, high levels of opposition were exhibited in most of the European Community, with over 50% of the population being opposed to animal research in West Germany, Belgium, East Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Ireland, Denmark, and Spain. Only Portugal (35 %) and Greece (36%), among the European Community members, had less than 50% of their population opposed to animal research. In contrast, non-European nations such as Japan (42%), Canada (49%), and the United States (42%) had less than a majority of the population opposed to animal research.

In addition to overall level of opposition, the intensity of opinions regarding animal research was examined. In the United States, both opposition and support for animal research were of a moderate nature. Few of the respondents took an extreme position on animal research. Only nine percent strongly agreed with the statement, while 14% strongly disagreed. Results showed that the Canadian public is more strongly opposed to the use of animals in research than is the American public. Furthermore, data indicated that opposition to animal research is expressed more intensely in all of the European nations than in Canada with the exception of Greece and Portugal.
Consistent with previous studies showing gender differences in regards to animal research, all of the 15 countries revealed that a greater percentage of women than men were opposed to research using animals. The largest gender difference occurred in the Netherlands where 32% of men and 58% of women indicated that they were opposed to animal research. The smallest gender difference occurred in the former West Germany where both men (66%) and women (67%) were opposed to animal research. In the United States, over 50% of women and only about 30% of men were opposed to animal research.

It has been suggested by some researchers that opposition to animal research can be directly linked to the general level of scientific illiteracy. This study showed that no clear, consistent relationship was found. In some nations it appears there is a positive relationship between scientific knowledge and support for animal research, whereas in others nations, there is a negative relationship, with individuals with higher levels of scientific knowledge being more likely to oppose animal research.

The study also investigated the relationship between concern for the environment and concern for animal rights. Results showed that although West Germany was previously seen to have the smallest differences among men and women in attitudes toward animal research, this was not the case with the relationship between attitudes toward animal research and environmental concern. Three quarters (75%) of West Germans who expressed interest in the environment expressed opposition to animal research, while only 56% who were moderately interested, and 48% who were not at all interested expressed similar opposition. France was earlier seen to have the highest overall levels of opposition to animal research, and 74% of individuals expressed that they were very interested in the environment and being opposed to animal research, and only 52%who were not at all interested being opposed.

When the data is looked at across cultures, no clear cut picture emerges with the exception that women generally oppose animal research more than men. Some cross-cultural differences have been seen in the public’s attitudes toward animal research. In some west European nations such as the former West Germany, attitudes toward animal research seem to be associated with environmental concerns. Likewise, in some societies, there appears to be a direct relationship between higher levels of scientific knowledge and support for animal research, while in other nations there appears to be no connection.

The findings indicate that there are differences in the ways males and females treat and react to animals in a variety of conditions other than research. Females tend to be more empathic toward, knowledgeable about, nurturing of, and positive toward animals than males. Research points strongly to differences in gender role socialization as the cause of the differences.
An analysis of the gender roles in the countries surveyed might explain why in some countries men and women did show as many differences in opposing animal research. Germany, for example, seems to have more androgynous gender roles which points to a further need to analyze what in the gender role influences attitudes towards animal research.

The present study challenges the belief that science education will overlook the animal rights movement and positive public attitudes toward animal research will prevail without question. In contrast, this study confirms that the general public across various cultures expresses opposition of animal research to some extent or another, especially among women. Future research should explore cross cultural aspects of attitudes toward animal rights and the utilization of animals in hunting practices, zoos, circuses and other activities that which are all assumed to take place in the name of science and education.

Summary by Effie Heotis

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