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Humans and Biopsychology Research

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Is it ethical to use humans in biopsychology reasearch?

One of the most interesting points about using humans for biopsychology research is that humans can report their experiences in their own words (Pinel, 2009, p. 4). Although the opinions or experiences may vary from one person to the next, the difference in responses illustrate the complexity of the human brain. Nonhuman subjects also play an important role in biopsychological research. There are disadvantages however, such as a possible lack of funding, but there are strict ethics in place that often exclude humans from being the subjects of scientific research.

Using human subjects for biopsychological research is not without its problems. The cost of compensating people to take part in research studies can be a disadvantage, as can the influence of monetary rewards, if the object of the experiment was common knowledge before taking place. However, there are experimental methods such as blind studies, which can eliminate this problem. In addition, people can verbally express thoughts and feelings to let researchers know when they are experiencing pain or discomfort. Scientists conducting studies must be educated to recognize the signs that a laboratory animal is experiencing pain.


A person who is being observed in a sleep study may feel self-conscious about being watched while they were asleep, even if they did not anticipate feeling this way. Conversely, an infant would not feel uncomfortable. An infant sleeps when he needs to sleep and would likely not be concerned who is watching. An infant could be seen as a blank canvas in this regard. If the television was turned on when he was asleep, certain noises may disturb the infant, but he wouldn't be bothered by light, program content or the use of words that some adults may find upsetting and enough to keep them awake.

It is remarkable to see an infant sleep and be in dream state, and wonder what is going through their minds because they have not had any life experiences with the real world to contribute any kind of reference or disturbance. The same can be seen when a dog or cat is sleeping. Although the content of its dreams may be derived from some unpleasant memory, one must wonder about the content of a dream which results in distressed vocalization and seemingly corresponding movements.

Bias and Limitation

Although the subject of infants in sleep studies provides and clear example, it is useful only for the purpose of explanation. Using infants in sleep studies to observe disorders such as Restless Leg Syndrome and Sleep Apnia would not be effective in a real situation. The television disturbance (among other things) could, indeed, be controlled during observation with adults. In addition, there would exist only a limited set of data from any previous studies using infants which would mean there is only minimal information compiled over any period of time to use for as a comparison.

Animals in Research Laboratories

Federal and state agencies monitor laboratories closely. Animal advocate organizations also play an important role in protecting the welfare of animals used in research settings. Depending on the studies conducted, keeping animals in a laboratory indefinitely may outweigh the cost of paying people for their participation. It might also be argued that compensating an animal with food rewards could also influence the outcome of biopsychological experiments. For this reason alone, it may be necessary to conduct multiple experiments to draw any satisfactory conclusion, and therefore more time and expense would be necessary for conducting research with nonhuman subjects.


Pinel, J. P. J. (2009). Biopsychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon



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Kerry Hosking

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