Children’s developing moral concern for animals

Henseler Kozachenko, Heather and Piazza, Jared and Lewis, Charlie (2022) Children’s developing moral concern for animals. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Adults tend to morally prioritise animals that share qualities with humans (e.g., intelligence), but they are also self-serving in their judgments of animals they consume. How children value animal life remains largely unexplored. Across four studies, this thesis examined how school-age children and adults evaluate the worth of animal life (Study 1) and judge the wrongness of harming animals (Studies 2-4). In Study 1, 241 children between 6 and 10, and 152 adults, were asked to rate a range of animals on seven different perceptual dimensions and rank order the animals within a moral-regard task. Structural equation modelling revealed several important developmental changes with younger children placing relatively more emphasis on animal aesthetics and benevolence than older children and adults who elevated the intelligence, sentience, and utility of animals as food for humans. Studies 2-3 explored the impact of categorisation and consumer motivations on children’s and adults’ judgments of harming animals. Perceptions of the intelligence of an animal were experimentally manipulated, as well as the animals’ food status (chickens vs. kakapos, Study 2) and the perspective taken by the participant (self vs. other, Study 3). Compared to adults, children tended to hold more moralistic views of harm to animals, irrespective of their status as food (Study 2). Only adults exhibited motivated disregard for the animals’ intelligence when it was an animal consumed (Study 2) or when personally judging its worth (Study 3); for example, adults believed that others would feel guilty about eating intelligent cows, but their own judgments were not affected by admitting cow intelligence. By contrast, children condemned eating cows as much as they believed others would. Study 4 isolated the personal relevance of the eaten animal. It also reduced the role of aesthetics within the materials. This conceptual replication with 223 adults produced very similar results to Study 2, but failed to replicate the motivated use of intelligence information for the non-food animal. This thesis substantially advances how we understand children’s concern for animal life, in that, moral valuations have their basis in childhood that (a) start with a focus on surface-level constructs that develop into more complex understandings of animals’ minds and (b) lack the self-serving evaluative processes characteristic of adults.

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Thesis (PhD)
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05 Jan 2023 13:00
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05 Apr 2024 00:32