Attitudes toward animals are influenced by both animal traits (e.g., similarity to humans, aesthetic quality, size) and individual human attributes (e.g., gender, age, educational level, cultural factors). Although the examination of children's interest in animals, and their preference for different species, may evidence specific trends and help explain the development of attitudes, the vast majority of research has not considered children younger than 6 years. The present study was aimed at assessing preferences for a variety of animal species in a sample of 3–6 year-old Italian children, using a forced-choice task and visual aids (images of the animals). Pictures of 48 animal species, ranging from mammals to invertebrates, were presented to the children. Two photographic stimuli were simultaneously displayed and participants were asked to indicate their preference. Results show that the children preferred higher-order species, and domestic over wild animals. Apart from a few exceptions, invertebrates were the most disliked group of species among the children. Girls showed more negative and fear-related attitudes than the boys. Results are discussed taking into account different factors that may affect children's preferences for various animal species, that is, similarity to humans and aesthetical appeal. Greater knowledge on early attitudes toward animals has implications for promoting interest in animals and for building educational interventions for kindergarten children. This is particularly important in light of the growing use of different animals in educational and therapeutic contexts, as well as from an animal welfare perspective.
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