Across a 15-year period, annual cohorts of first-year veterinary science students (n = 1,380; 77% female) at a British university completed the Belief in Animal Sentience (BiAS) questionnaire, in which they reported their beliefs about the sentience (capacity to feel) of ten species: dogs, cats, lions, pigs, sheep, rats, rabbits, chickens, bees, and spiders. On the basis of previous findings regarding people’s beliefs about animals’ capacities for mind, it was hypothesized that female students would ascribe more human-like sentience to animals than would male students. It was also hypothesized that the proportion of female students in each of the cohorts studied would have an influence on the beliefs of the year group as a whole: cohorts comprising a larger percentage of women would have higher animal sentience beliefs in both males and females. The data were analyzed using two-level regression models to concurrently investigate the effects of individual respondents’ gender and the percentage of female students in their cohort. Compared with their male counterparts, female veterinary students across all the cohorts studied attributed significantly higher (more human-like) sentience to each of the ten animals listed in the BiAS questionnaire, but the percentage of female students in each year group was not associated with students’ sentience beliefs. It was also found that childhood experience of having owned pet cats or dogs was related to students’ beliefs about the sentience of these species, although this association did not contribute to the differences found between male and female respondents. Given the increasing number of women entering the veterinary profession, and previous findings that beliefs about animals’ capacities for sentience may be associated with the veterinary care they are given, we conclude that gender differences in sentience beliefs could have a significant impact on the future of veterinary practice and patient welfare.
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