Press "Enter" to skip to content

When Is “Speciesism” Learned? Children Think Farm Animals Deserve Same Treatment as Pets

Children differ dramatically from adults in their moral views on animals, new research shows.

University of Exeter researchers asked children aged 9-11 about the moral status and treatment of farm animals (pigs), pets (dogs), and people.

Unlike adults, children say farm animals should be treated the same as people and pets, and think eating animals is less morally acceptable than adults do.

The findings suggest that “speciesism” – a moral hierarchy that gives different value to different animals – is learned during adolescence.

“Humans’ relationship with animals is full of ethical double standards,” said Dr. Luke McGuire, from the University of Exeter.

“Some animals are beloved household companions, while others are kept in factory farms for economic benefit.

“Judgments seem to largely depend on the species of the animal in question: dogs are our friends, pigs are food.”

The research team – including the University of OxfordThe University of Oxford is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England that is made up of 39 constituent colleges, and a range of academic departments, which are organized into four divisions. It was established circa 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation after the University of Bologna.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>University of Oxford – surveyed 479 people, all living in England, from three age groups: 9-11, 18-21, and 29-59.

The two adult groups had relatively similar views – suggesting attitudes to animals typically change between the ages of 11 and 18.

“Something seems to happen in adolescence, where that early love for animals becomes more complicated and we develop more speciesism,” said Dr. McGuire

“It’s important to note that even adults in our study thought eating meat was less morally acceptable than eating animal products like milk.

“So aversion to animals – including farm animals – being harmed does not disappear entirely.”

The study also found that, as people age, they are more likely to classify farm animals as “food” rather than “pets” – while children were equally likely to consider pigs to fall into either of these categories.

While adjusting attitudes is a natural part of growing up, Dr. McGuire said the “moral intelligence of children” is also valuable.

“If we want people to move towards more plant-based diets for environmental reasons, we have to disrupt the current system somewhere,” he said.

“For example, if children ate more plant-based food in schools, that might be more in line with their moral values, and might reduce the ‘normalization’ towards adult values that we identify in this study.”

The paper, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, is entitled: “The development of speciesism: Age-related differences in the moral view of animals.”

Reference: “The development of speciesism: Age-related differences in the moral view of animals” 11 April 2022, Social Psychological and Personality Science.
DOI: 10.1177/19485506221086182

Source: SciTechDaily