Children (aged 9-11 years old) are less likely to categorise farm animals as food than pets, compared to young adults (18-21 years old) and adults (29-39 years old).
These are the findings of new research out of the UK, which suggests there are key age-related differences in our moral view of an animal’s worth that point to socially constructed development throughout our lives.
Researchers from Exeter University surveyed 479 people across the age brackets: children, young adults, and adults. The study measured participants’ belief that an animal’s worth depended on its species. It also investigated how the participants felt the animal is usually treated, and how it should be treated.
Findings revealed that children were less likely to see a moral hierarchy between humans and animals. They were also less likely to categorise farm animals as food.
Those aged 9-11 years of age through that animals such as pigs should be treated better than adults did.
It could be implied that the perspective develops somewhere between 11 years of age and adulthood.
“Our findings suggest we need to consider how we talk to children about humans’ relationship with non-human animals,” said lead author Dr Luke McGuire of the University of Exeter.
“Children are motivated to consider harm against the natural world, including animals, and as such we might want to consider beginning these discussions about food decisions early in life.”
The researcher serves to better understand consumer motivations behind eating meat, particularly given increased focus on reducing intake in place of plant-based food for human and planetary health.
“As with all social psychological processes, it is worth stepping back to consider where these attitudes and cognitions come from,” said Dr McGuire. “Critically examining our relationship with animals ought to be a primary goal of tackling climate change and one that begins in childhood.”
While Dr McGuire noted that the research is not intended to promote any dietary or moral perspective, green fintech iClima Earth believes it should be leveraged in our 'struggle' to mitigate environmental change.
"If behaviours like speciesism are learnt during adolescence, then targeting that process of learning could be a major opportunity for reducing meat consumption, a vital strategy for mitigating ongoing environmental damage," said CEO Garbriela Herculano.
Dr McGuire hopes that future research will further investigate how our perspective on animals is shaped during adolescence. “As teenagers, we start to have greater knowledge of the systems in place in the world, as well as autonomy over things like diet.
“It is fascinating to consider how these two elements might work together to lead to the adult thinking we see in our study.”
Source: Social Psychological and Personality Science
‘The Development of Speciesism: Age-Related Differences in the Moral View of Animals’
Published 11 April 2022
Authors: Luke McGuire, Sally B. Palmer, Nadira S. Faber