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Anthropomorphizing Dogs: Projecting One's Own Personality and Consequences for Supporting Animal Rights

By Christina M. Brown, Julia L. McLean

Category Journal Articles
Abstract

The purpose of this paper was twofold: First, to test if people project their own personality traits onto dogs, and second, to examine if considering the psychological state of dogs increases support for animal rights more broadly. In studies 1 and 2, participants read descriptions of dog behaviors and were asked whether the behaviors indicated the presence of certain traits (guilt, loneliness, anxiety) in those dogs. Participants also completed measures that assessed the presence of those traits in themselves. In both studies, participants who were prone to feeling guilt in their own lives were more likely to believe that dogs who show submission after a misdeed are feeling guilt and that dogs who show activity are feeling anxious. In study 2, we manipulated whether participants were asked to consider the psychological state of dogs by having only some participants read and rate the ambiguous dog behaviors from study 1. We found that doing so increased participants' support for animal rights relative to a control condition. Lastly, we observed correlations between participant personality and support for animal rights, such that greater anthropomorphism (measured both broadly and in the form of seeing guilt and anxiety in dogs) and greater general empathy predicted more support for animal rights. This research shows that people project some, but not all, of their own personality traits onto dogs when dogs behave ambiguously. In addition, it shows that simply being asked to consider whether dogs have human-like traits can temporarily increase support for animal rights more broadly.

Publication Title Anthrozoƶs
Volume 28
Issue 1
Pages 73-86
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.2752/089279315X14129350721975
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Tags
  1. Animal rights
  2. Anthropomorphism
  3. Dogs
  4. Personality