Animal Dissection Isn’t Effective—Here’s the Evidence


Animal dissection is still used in some classrooms across the country, but is it actually an effective teaching tool? (Spoiler alert: The answer is no.) A new systematic review in the journal The American Biology Teacher compared the educational value of animal dissection with that of non-animal teaching methods in 20 published studies from 2005 to 2020. Here are some of the key takeaways:

1. Animal-free teaching methods are as effective as—and often more effective than—animal dissection.

In 95% of studies, students at all educational levels performed at least as well on course evaluations—and in many of those cases better—when they used animal-free methods instead of animal dissection. If educational goals can be met without using animals, there’s an ethical obligation to use animal-free methods. It’s clear that there’s no reason to breed, kill, and dissect pigs, mice, frogs, and other animals in lessons when animal-free methods work just as well or better. Other research has shown that a significant number of students at every educational level are uncomfortable with the use of animals in dissection and that the traumatic experience can even dissuade some young people from pursuing careers in science.

2. When learning about human anatomy, students learn more when using animal-free methods.

Using the corpses of animals to learn about human anatomy just doesn’t make sense. That’s why animal-free methods are particularly effective at helping students learn about the human body. Human-based clay modeling allows students to learn about anatomy by building body systems out of clay on model skeletons. Interactive computer simulations and hyper-realistic models are also great methods, because students can work with each body system and “dissect” virtually several times until they’re confident about the material. Studies also show that students prefer these replacements and find them more enjoyable. Newer models like SynFrog allow students to have the same experience as in actual dissection but without the use of animals’ bodies—plus, these models can be reused, so they’re a better financial option for schools, especially in underserved communities.

3. Students can learn hands-on skills with animal-free methods.

Two studies focusing on hands-on skill development showed that medical students were able to learn how to remove a gall bladder without using dead pigs’ bodies. In early-stage skills training, students can learn with animal-free methods before moving forward with higher-level skills using ethically sourced human cadavers.

This review proves that animal dissection should be phased out of the classroom. No animal wants or deserves to die so that their body can be cut apart in a classroom, and with superior, animal-free methods available, it’s high time to make the change.

Learn more about the benefits of implementing animal-free teaching methods in your classroom:


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