The use of animals for medical experimentation: an analysis of young people's perceptions in Britain

Sullivan, Jane Elizabeth (2006) The use of animals for medical experimentation: an analysis of young people's perceptions in Britain. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Understanding public attitudes towards using animals for medical experimentation and the issues that cause public concern is of importance scientifically, economically and ethically. Although national opinion poll data appear to provide enough evidence to propose the hypothesis that 'the majority of people in Britain support animal research' it is clear from reviewing the literature that the attitudes of young people have not been adequately explored. Furthermore, the ethical considerations and scientific understanding underpinning such attitudes are also poorly understood. It is also clear that we have little comprehension of how ethnic minority groups in our society view animal experimentation (AE).
The aim of this study is therefore to acquire a contemporary, comprehensive understanding of young people's perceptions of AL This is pursued by means of a custom made questionnaire that also seeks to explore knowledge/understanding and
values/belief systems within a cross-cultural context. Qualitative aspects of the study, both verbal and pictorial, enrich the quantitative data generated, allowing a unique insight into how young people articulate their attitudes towards AE.
The findings from this study reveal that young people hold a diverse array of attitudes towards AE. Their support is dependent on animal species, which for non-Islamic respondents appears to be based on traditional Western considerations of phylogenic hierarchy. For Islamic respondents, however, attitudes towards certain animals diverge from this phylogenic classification, being driven instead perhaps by traditional cultural relationships with animals. Cross-cultural differences of how animals are viewed were also apparent when value typologies were measured. Scales to assess the human-animal
bond and instrumental attitudes towards animals demonstrate that Islamic respondents have a less emotional attachment to animals, viewing them more instrumentally. The human-animal relationship scales reveal no such differences.
Young people appear to have a poor knowledge base regarding issues surrounding AE and have a negative image of animal welfare within research facilities. These perceptions correlate with attitudes towards AE and hence suggest that there is a need for greater communication between scientists and lay people regarding this issue. When compared with other scales measuring instrumental uses of animals, Islamic respondents supported AE to a lesser extent than might have been expected, which may reflect a lower level of general medical understanding.
Gaining a greater understanding of young people's perceptions of AE is not only important in its own right but may also be of general benefit in the arena of public understanding of science. The recommendations from this study therefore suggest
routes to strengthen scientific communication in regard to the issue of AB that might also be applicable to more general areas of science.

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