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Factors affecting the human attribution of emotions toward animals

By A. M. Wilkins, L. S. McCrae, E. A. McBride

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Attribution of emotions to animals can affect human-animal interactions and dictate animal welfare laws. However, little is known about the factors that influence these attributions. We investigated the effect of belief in animal mind, pet ownership, emotional intelligence, eating orientation, and gender on the attribution of different emotions to a variety of species, from different taxonomic classes, considered as Pet, Use (e.g., used for food, experimentation), or Pest animals. Three hundred and forty-seven participants, aged between 16 and 65 years, completed a questionnaire that measured their belief in the capacity for animals to experience seven primary and secondary emotions. The results showed that attribution of emotions to animals is inconsistent. The ambiguity appears to hinge, in part, upon an animal's functional category and their perceived place in the commonly supposed, though inaccurate, linear hierarchy of species. Nonetheless, the wide range of emotions that were attributed to all species highlights the complex and potentially disorganized thoughts that humans have concerning animals. Belief in animal mind was found to be the strongest and only predictor of emotion attribution to animals in general, but is probably because both are part of the same underlying construct. Ownership of some species - rabbits, horses, rodents and birds - mediated the emotions attributed to that particular species. We conclude that ambiguous attitudes influence the standards of welfare for animals used by humans and that the dichotomous attitudes permit exploitation and welfare violations against animals. Greater understanding of emotion attribution has the potential to improve humane education methods, and suggestions for future research are made.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 28
Issue 3
Pages 357-369
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2015.1052270
Language English
Author Address Department of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Anthrozoology
  4. Attitudes
  5. Birds
  6. Education
  7. Effect
  8. Emotions
  9. Horses
  10. Humans
  11. Interactions
  12. Lagomorpha
  13. Law and legal issues
  14. Leporidae
  15. Mammals
  16. Men
  17. Mental ability
  18. peer-reviewed
  19. predictions
  20. Primates
  21. Questionnaires
  22. rabbits
  23. Rodents
  24. standards
  25. taxonomy
  26. ungulates
  27. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed