Studies and Investigations

The Physicians Committee

Studies and Investigations

Dissection’s impact on students

Dissection has been falling out of favor among students for many years:

  • A 1989 survey of 142 U.S. ninth graders found that 50 percent would have chosen an alternative to dissection if offered one and 90 percent believed that students should have a choice.
  • A 1992 study of 468 14- and 15-year-olds found that 72 percent felt it was wrong to breed animals for dissection, 83 percent wanted alternatives to be found, and 38 percent objected to any animal material being used for this purpose.
  • A 1997 study of seventh graders found that fetal pig dissections fostered callousness toward animals and nature and dissuaded students from pursuing science careers.

Animal welfare investigations


  • Studies from the early 1970s revealed that frogs were taken from the wild throughout North America, Canada, and Mexico. Most were kept in sacks of 100 or more for long periods, then "stored" in large tubs for months without food until schools placed an order. Shipped off 50 to a box, many arrived overheated, hyperactive, convulsing, or dead. Investigations in the late 1990s found no improvements to the system.
  • When they are "prepared" for dissection, frogs are usually dropped in a water-and-alcohol solution, which can take up to 20 minutes to cause death.


  • An investigation of Carolina Biological Supply Company (CBSC), the largest animal supply business in the United States, found cats arriving in crowded cages, being poked with metal hooks, and finally being sent into gas chambers (some giving birth or making sounds after the gassing, indicating they were not yet dead).
  • In 1991, the U.S. Department of Agriculture charged the CBSC with 10 violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including one charge of embalming cats who were still alive.
  • In 1995, authorities raided a farm in Mexico harboring 800 cats whose throats were cut and were set for shipment to U.S. schools. Similar operations were reported in other Mexican border states.


  • A 1989 study of warehoused slider turtles set for classroom experiments found them to be underweight, hemorrhaging through the shell, paralyzed, swollen, and suffering from respiratory problems, diarrhea, and other conditions. Several were dead.

Comparative studies – traditional dissection vs. humane alternative methods

This pdf contains a thorough list of studies comparing traditional dissection with humane alternatives. Here's a sample:

Study: Predavec, M. 2001. Evaluation of E-Rat, a computer-based rat dissection, in terms of student learning outcomes. Journal of Biological Education 35(2):75-80.

Outcome: First-year undergraduate students taught rat anatomy via computer-based instruction scored higher on average than students taught using conventional dissection, regardless of how much time each student spent on the class.

Study: More, D. & C.L. Ralph. 1992. A test of effectiveness of courseware in a college biology class. J. Educational Technology Systems. 21:79–84.

Outcome: Biology knowledge of about 92 undergraduate biology students using computer courseware increased more than did that of approximately 92 students using traditional animal-based laboratories.

Download the pdf of all studies>