top of page

Photo by Sam Carter on Unsplash

Photo by Sam Carter

About the Animal Centered Research Project

The Animal Centred Research Project aims to develop an ethical framework for the involvement of animals in research which is informed by animal-centered principles and which explicitly recognizes animals’ autonomy, interests and role, in order to support a nuanced ethical approach to animal research and the best possible research for the benefit of animal partakers and wider society. 

Benefits and limitations of humane animal research principles

The involvement of animals in research procedures that can harm them and to which they are deemed unable to consent raises fundamental ethical dilemmas. Proposed over 60 years ago [16], the principles of Replacement, Reduction and Refinement (3Rs) address these dilemmas: wherever possible, animal use in research procedures should be replaced with alternative methods or more complex species should be replaced with species deemed less sentient; the number of animals used in research procedures should be reduced as far as possible; research procedures should be refined to minimize any negative impact on the animals involved. The 3Rs are widely regarded as the gold standard for humane animal research [4], and the best compromise between animal welfare and research aims. 

While the 3Rs framework’s application has yielded significant benefits for both the welfare of research animals and the quality of animal research, by stimulating strategic and methodological innovations [17], researchers have also pointed out various limitations. For one thing, it involves difficult trade-offs, for example, because the reduction of animal numbers may mean that fewer animals are subjected to more procedures causing greater impact on the individuals involved; or because the replacement of more complex species with lower species may result in the use of more individual animals [14]. For another thing, it is still grounded in the assumption that the use of animals in research is legitimate to achieve a greater good for society [5], implying that: research procedures do not have to be relevant to the individuals involved; any costs to the animals involved can be considered acceptable based on a cost-benefit analysis that prioritizes societal interests; measures to minimize suffering and animal use are subordinated to the aims of the research; no explicit provision enables animals to consent or dissent to their involvement, or withdraw from a procedure. In other words, within the 3Rs framework animals are still fundamentally instruments of research rather than participants in research. This contrasts with frameworks regulating the involvement of participants in human-centered research, which protect their autonomy and wellbeing, and require their just treatment [2].


From humane animal research to animal-centered research

The field of Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI) aims to study the interaction between animals and technology from their perspective and, through animal-centered methods, develop technological interventions that benefit them. To this end, the field extends to nonhuman animals the human-centered ethical perspective which has informed Human-Computer Interaction and, generally, Computing research, and which requires the prioritization of individual research participants’ autonomy and welfare over research aims and societal interests. Consistent with this concern, researchers have engaged with ethical issues related to the impact of ACI research on animals [15, 9, 8] and some have specifically proposed ethical guidelines for the involvement of animals in ACI research [18, 10, 11]. 

While some of these guidelines appeal to the 3Rs framework [18], researchers have also suggested that animal involvement in ACI research could be looked at through the lens of human research ethics [7]. Others have argued that an ACI research ethics should move beyond the process-centered 3Rs framework, since ACI’s animal-centered aims require an equally animal-centered framework comprising corresponding principles [11], implying that: animals should be involved in research procedures only when these are directly relevant and beneficial to them (principle of relevance); all involved individuals should be equitably protected, not in virtue of their attributed capacities but of their role as research participants (principle of impartiality); research procedures should give priority to their biological integrity and individual autonomy (principle of welfare); individuals’ informed consent should always be garnered, comprising mediated consent from legal guardians and welfare experts in the animals’ best interests, and contingent consent from the animals themselves, as expressed by their willingness to engage and chosen modalities of engagement (principle of consent) [12].

Extending the application of animal-centered research principles

In 2006 Russell confessed: “I hope I won’t have to write any more long repetitive papers on the Three Rs...[I] would like to hand over to people...who are still advancing the subject and can say something new” [1]. Consistent with this, we recently discussed the possible applicability of the principles of relevance, impartiality, welfare and consent to animal research beyond the remit of ACI [12]. We proposed a scoring system to help researchers and delegated authorities assess the extent to which research procedures align with these principles and determine when being involved in research is in an animal’s best interests, when a procedure could be adjusted to increase its ethical standard or when the use of non-animal methods is more urgently advisable. 

In some cases, the alignment of research procedures with animal-centered principles is apparent. For example, studies which investigate the effectiveness of welfare-enhancing housing conditions for farm animals and which offer such enhancements to at least some of the animals involved [13] clearly align with the principle of relevance. Procedures which ensure the welfare of the animals involved during trials and which envisage their rehabilitation and rehoming instead of convenience euthanasia following trials [6] clearly align with the principle of welfare. Similarly aligned is research whose procedures employ technology that afford animals more control and autonomy in constraining situations, improving their welfare as a result [19]. However, in other cases, such as acute toxicity tests of substances for human use [3], there is hardly alignment with any animal-centered research principles. Here the question arises as to what extent such principles might be applicable to a diverse range of procedures involving animals and what might facilitate their widest possible application.

The Project's aim

The Animal Centered Research Project aims to address this question by exploring the applicability of ACI’s research ethics beyond the field’s remit, with a view to developing an animal-centered approach to the use of animals in research more broadly. In particular, the aim is to rearticulate the framework of the 3Rs to develop an integrated ethical framework which includes animal-centered research principles and thus explicitly recognizes animals’ autonomy, interests and role, for a more nuanced ethical approach and for supporting the best possible research to the benefit of animal partakers and wider society. To this end, we aim to form a working group committed to developing the envisaged integrated framework, and to exploring pathways for its application in research policy and practice through follow-up events.

  1. Balls, M. (2015). Russell and Burch after 1959. Altern. Lab. Anim. 43, 59–60. 

  2. Beauchamp, T.L., and Childress, J.F. (2013). Principles of Biomedical Ethics. Oxford University Press.

  3. Belay, Y.T. (2019). Study of the principles in the first phase of experimental pharmacology: the basic step with assumption hypothesis. BMC Pharmacol. Toxicol. 20, 2–12. 

  4. EC (2010). Directive 2010/63/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. Official J. Eur. Union 276, 33–79.

  5. Ferdowsian, H.R., and Beck, N. (2011). Ethical and scientific considerations regarding animal testing and research. PLoS ONE. 6, e24059. 

  6. Franco, N.H. (2016). Killing of animals in science – is it always inevitable? In I. Anna, S. Olsson, S.M. Araújo, and M.F. Vieira (Eds). Food futures: Ethics, Science and Culture, Wageningen Academic Publishers.

  7. Freil, L., Byrne, C., Valentin, G., Zeagler, C., Roberts, D., Starner, T., Jackson, M. (2017). Canine-Centered Computing. Foundations and Trends in Human-Computer Interaction, 10(2), 1-82.

  8. French, F., Hirskyj-Douglas, I., Väätäjä. H., Pons, P., Karl, S., Chisik, Y., et al. (2021). Ethics and Power Dynamics in Playful Technology for Animals: Using Speculative Design to Provoke Reflection. Academic Mindtrek 2021, 91–101.

  9. Grillaert, K., Camenzind, S. (2016). Unleashed enthusiasm: ethical reflections on harms, benefits, and animal-centered aims of ACI. Proc. Third International Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction, ACI2016 

  10. Hirskyj-Douglas, I, Read, J. (2016). The ethics of how to work with dogs in animal computer interaction. Proc. Animal Computer Interaction Symposium, Measuring Behaviour 2016.

  11. Mancini, C. (2017). Towards an animal-centred ethics for animal– computer interaction. Int. J. Hum. Comput. Stud. 98:221– 33. 

  12. Mancini, C., Nannoni, E. (2022). Relevance, Impartiality, Welfare and Consent: Principles of an Animal-Centered Research Ethics. Frontiers in Animal Science 3:800186.

  13. Nannoni, E., Martelli, G., Rubini, G., and Sardi, L. (2019). Effects of increased space allowance on animal welfare, meat and ham quality of heavy pigs slaughtered at 160Kg PLoS ONE 14, e0212417. 

  14. Richmond, J. (2000). The 3Rs - past, present and future. Scand. J. Lab. Anim. Sci. 27, 84–92. 

  15. Ritvo, S., and Allison, R. (2014). Challenges related to nonhuman animal computer interaction: usability and ‘liking’. Proc. First Intl. Congress on Animal Human-Computer Interaction, ACMACE’14 (New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery). 

  16. Russell, W.M.S., and Burch, R.L. (1959). The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, xiv + 238pp. London: Methuen.

  17. Törnqvist, E., Annas, A., Granath, B., Jalkesten, E., Cotgreave, I., and Öberg, M. (2014). Strategic focus on 3R principles reveals major reductions in the use of animals in pharmaceutical toxicity testing. PLoS ONE 9, e101638. 

  18. Väätäjä, H.K., Pesonen, E.K. (2013). Ethical issues and guidelines when conducting HCI studies with animals. In: CHI’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Paris.

  19. van Weeghel, E., Bram, B., Spoelstra, S., and Peter, W.G. (2016). Involving the animal as a contributor in design to overcome animal welfare related trade-offs: the dust bath unit as an example. Biosyst. Eng. 145, 76–92. 

Project Leads


Clara Mancini

Clara is Full Professor of Animal-Computer Interaction at The Open University's School of Computing and Communications in United Kingdom


Eleonora Nannoni

Eleonora is Associate Professor of Animal Science a the University of Bologna's Department of Veterinary Medical Science in Italy

bottom of page