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Using Bateson's Decision Making Cube to evaluate animal research

When exploring the use of animal research to support an approach or theory, learners could consider more that the cruelty aspect. One way for learners to do this could include the Bateson Decision-Making Cube and apply it to a piece of animal research in psychology.



The Bateson Decision-Making Cube is a framework developed by British biologist William Bateson that provides a structured approach for evaluating ethical decisions, particularly in situations involving scientific research and experimentation. It offers a way to balance the considerations of science, society, and ethics. The cube has three dimensions: the values of society, the values of the scientific community, and the welfare of the individual subject. It's used to assess the ethical implications of research by considering these three dimensions and determining if the proposed study aligns with them.


Applying the Bateson Decision-Making Cube to assess animal research in psychology, would involve considering the following:


Values of Society:

  • How does the study align with prevailing societal values and attitudes towards animal welfare?

  • Does the potential gain in knowledge justify any potential harm caused to the animals?

  • Is there public acceptance of the study's methods and its contributions to human understanding?

Values of the Scientific Community:

  • How significant is the research question being investigated?

  • Are there alternative methods that could achieve the same goals without causing harm to animals?

  • Is the research well-designed and rigorous enough to produce reliable and meaningful results?

Welfare of the Individual Subject:

  • How does the study affect the physical and psychological well-being of the animals involved?

  • Are there measures in place to minimize distress, pain, or suffering experienced by the animals?

  • Are there ethical guidelines in place to ensure humane treatment and appropriate care for the animals?



Applying this framework to Harlow's monkey study:

Values of Society:

  • Harlow's study may have been seen as controversial by today's standards due to the distress and suffering experienced by the monkeys.

  • Public sentiment might question whether the potential insights gained were worth the cost to animal welfare.

Values of the Scientific Community:

  • Harlow's study was groundbreaking in its exploration of attachment and the importance of caregiving in primate development.

  • At the time, there may not have been as much emphasis on animal welfare in research, and the study was influential in shaping our understanding of attachment and child development.

Welfare of the Individual Subject:

  • The monkeys in Harlow's study experienced significant distress due to maternal deprivation and social isolation.

  • While the study provided important insights, the suffering experienced by the animals raises ethical concerns by modern standards.


In the context of the Bateson Decision-Making Cube, the ethical assessment of Harlow's study would highlight the conflict between the scientific knowledge gained and the welfare of the animals involved. It showcases how ethical considerations have evolved over time and how our understanding of animal welfare has led to changes in research practices to ensure the humane treatment of research subjects.



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