Children believe farm animals deserve to be treated as well as human beings, but lose that belief in adolescence, a groundbreaking study has found.
Researchers from the universities of Exeter and Oxford asked a group of British children aged 9-11, young adults aged 18-21 and older men and women about their attitudes towards different genders. of animals.
In general, the children said that farm animals and human beings should be treated the same and found eating animals to be less morally acceptable than both groups of adults. The results suggest that “speciesism” – a moral hierarchy that places different value on different animals – is learned during adolescence, according to the study.
“The relationship of humans to animals is full of ethical double standards,” said lead author Luke McGuire, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter who specializes in social and moral development. “Some animals are beloved housemates, while others are kept on factory farms for economic gain. Judgments seem to depend largely on the species of animal in question: dogs are our friends, pigs are our food.
The report says that an important aspect of the human mind is “moral acrobatics”: people may have conflicting ethical values and use moral double standards. But the origins of animal-related moral acrobatics are poorly understood, and researchers say this new study provides some of the first evidence examining the differences in how children and adults think about the treatment of animals.
Among other tasks, study participants were presented with pictures that included a farm animal and pets and were asked to categorize them as “food,” “pet,” or “object.” They were asked how the animals were treated and how they should be treated.
Children did not consider all animals equal. They concluded, in effect, that dogs should be treated better than pigs – but also that pigs should not be treated any differently than humans.
Both sets of adult groups said pigs should be treated worse than dogs, while humans and dogs should be treated the same.
McGuire said the study suggests that while children think farm animals and humans should be treated the same, as adults people think pets and humans should be treated better. . He said children viewed the consumption of animals as significantly less permissible than young adults and adults.
“Something seems to happen in adolescence, where this early love for animals becomes more complicated and we develop more speciesism,” McGuire said. “Importantly, even the adults in our study thought eating meat was morally less acceptable than eating animal products like milk. Thus, the aversion to animals – including farm animals – that are injured does not disappear entirely.
McGuire said that while adjusting attitudes was a natural part of growing up, “children’s moral intelligence” could be valuable.
He said: “If we want people to adopt more plant-based diets for environmental reasons, we have to disrupt the current system somewhere. For example, if children ate more plant-based foods in schools, this might be more in line with their moral values and might reduce the normalization toward the adult values we identify in this study.
The article, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, is titled “The Development of Speciesism: Age-Related Differences in the Moral View of Animals.”