Methodological Limitations of Using Animal Models in Cognitive Science Research


  • Marin Georgiev University of Vienna


Animal models are frequently used in research practice because they can presumably help us to gain a deeper understanding of humans. This is particularly evident in drug testing studies, where the goal is to discover potential cures for diseases [1]. Similarly, animal models are increasingly being used as an approach in cognitive science research. While the way animal models are used in drug testing practice is somewhat standardized (i.e. providing the animal with the newly developed drug and investigating its effects in terms of safety and efficacy), their use vary substantially when the phenomenon of interest is our cognition [1]. For this purpose, animals undergo brain scanning and neuroimaging setups, attention-related experiments, and behavioral experiments.

Although there is an ongoing debate about the reliability of animal experimentation in pharmacological research, there has been relatively little attention paid to how animal models affect our assumptions and findings on human cognition [3]. For example, one of the main criticisms of using animal models and extrapolating the results to humans is related to the internal and external validity of such an approach. Internal validity refers to the degree to which a study accurately measures what it claims to measure and is often related to study design, lack of internal measures to control bias, or irrelevant variables that may influence the study outcomes. External validity refers to the extent to which findings derived from one setting, population, or species can be reliably applied to other settings, populations, and species [2]. Additionally, the use of animal models can raise significant ethical concerns, particularly if the animals are subjected to pain or suffering.

While these ethical questions are of utmost importance, this thesis will mainly focus on the potential methodological limitations. Thus, the aim of this thesis is to critically analyze the existing literature and evaluate the limitations of different animal models used in cognitive science research. This will involve a thorough examination of the internal and external validity of animal models, as well as an assessment of the robustness of the experimental design and potential biases. By doing so, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of the role of animals in cognitive science research and provide valuable insights for future studies in this field.


[1] N. B. Robinson et al., “The current state of Animal Models in research: A Review,” International Journal of Surgery, vol. 72, pp. 9–13, 2019.

[2] P. Pound and M. Ritskes-Hoitinga, “Is it possible to overcome issues of external validity in preclinical animal research? why most animal models are bound to fail,” Journal of Translational Medicine, vol. 16, no. 1, 2018.

[3] Akhtar A. “The flaws and human harms of animal experimentation,” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 407–419, 2015.