Guidelines for the Use of Nonhuman Animals in Behavioral Projects in Schools (K-12)


Every day, some new scientific discovery helps us better understand how and why we humans, as well as other animals, behave as we do. The knowledge that we obtain from behavioral research informs diverse areas of study, from the treatment of human behavioral disorders and drug addiction to stress management and public health policy; from conservation biology and pest control to gerontology and neonatal care. Nonhuman animals play an essential role in this research. Indeed, without nonhuman animal research, much of the work in these areas would come to a complete standstill.

Today, in classrooms across the country, many elementary and secondary school students participate in demonstrations and research projects with nonhuman animals. The primary purpose of these activities is educational. That is, they are intended to teach students the principles of scientific research, to enable students to evaluate prior claims or assumptions about behavior and to generate new knowledge. In an age in which scientific literacy is an increasingly critical component in every student’s education, these goals can be realized by the creative use of live animal projects. Conducting demonstrations and research projects with nonhuman animals is also a source of intellectual stimulation and inspiration as a student’s interest in the life sciences frequently stems from, or is enhanced by, these experiences. Early experiences in nonhuman animal research projects can also provide an environment that encourages original thought, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Of course, with the decision to use live animals for teaching and research purposes comes a responsibility to care humanely for them and to minimize pain or discomfort whenever possible. Working with research animals is a privilege, and our society has developed important rules and guidelines to ensure that these animals are treated humanely. For example, the use of vertebrate animals in teaching and research at colleges and universities must comply with strict U.S. government regulations set forth in the Animal Welfare Act and/or the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, as well as the guidelines found in the "Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (Eighth Edition)" (PDF, 1.3MB). Likewise, projects in secondary schools that are intended for publication or science fair exhibition must comply with the requirement of the journal or fair sponsor (e.g., the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair), which relies on these same government standards. By following these rules and guidelines, researchers both ensure that animals are treated humanely and safeguard the continued use of animals in important behavioral research.

Because many psychologists conduct animal research, the APA has established the Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE), a committee whose mission is to help safeguard responsible research with nonhuman animals. In response to this charge – and in the hope that all professional educators will join us in helping to protect the welfare of nonhuman animals used in research and teaching – CARE has developed guidelines, described below, for the use of nonhuman animals in behavioral projects in schools, K-12. These guidelines have been derived from the rules and regulations mandated by the federal government as well as APA guidelines for nonhuman animal research in colleges and universities across the country, and they have as their basis important ethical principles that safeguard the humane treatment of nonhuman animals.

It is important to recognize that this document constitutes guidelines, meaning pronouncements that support or recommend, but cannot mandate specific approaches or actions. Guidelines differ from what are sometimes called standards in that standards may be considered mandatory and may be accompanied by an enforcement mechanism. Instead, this document is intended to be aspirational in intent, and to facilitate and assist the activity addressed; it is not applicable to every situation. Finally, it is not intended to take precedence over the judgment of those who have competence in the subjects addressed.

These guidelines were adopted by the Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association on Feb. 22, 2013, and are scheduled to expire on Feb. 22, 2023. After this date users are encouraged to contact the APA Science Directorate to determine if this document remains in effect.
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