Children Believe Humans and Farm Animals Should Be Treated Equally, Study Finds
But They Tend to Lose This Belief in Adolescence
According to a new study, children believe humans and farm animals should be treated in the same ways, but they start to lose these beliefs as they become teenagers. The study notes that speciesism is learned in adolescence.
The study, done by researches at Exeter University and Oxford University, asked people of different age groups: kids 9 to 11, young adults ages 18 to 21 and adults ages 29 to 59 about treatment toward animals, including animals considered food.
The researchers found that the children showed less speciesism overall compared to the young adults and older adults. Speciesism is considered a moral hierarchy that ranks the value of different animal species.
The study also said that the children tended to associate farm animals as pets more so than food compared to the adult groups. The kids also had higher instances of wanting better treatment for farm animals and they considered eating meat as less morally acceptable.
“Humans’ relationship with animals is full of ethical double standards,” Luke McGuire, study lead author and a lecturer at the University of Exeter, told The Guardian. “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 is considered an important step toward understanding “moral aerobics” where humans may have moral double standards or contradicting beliefs. For instance, through the course of the study, the kids noted that dogs deserved better treatment than pigs, but that pigs still deserved equal treatment to humans. The adult groups wanted dogs and humans to be treated equally and both to be treated better than pigs.
“Something seems to happen in adolescence, where that early love for animals becomes more complicated and we develop more speciesism,” McGuire explained. “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.”
Although McGuire noted that changes in attitudes and beliefs is natural over time, understanding these shifts could help society shift to more sustainable lifestyles by introducing eco-friendly behaviors, like plant-based diets, early.
“If we want people to move towards more plant-based diets for environmental reasons, we have to disrupt the current system somewhere,” McGuire told The Guardian. “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.”