The Psychology of Speciesism: How We Privilege Certain Animals Over Others

Our relationship with animals is complex. There are some animals we treat very kindly; we keep them as pets, give them names, and take them to the doctor when they are sick. Other animals, in contrast, seem to not to deserve this privileged status; we use them as objects for human consumption, trade, involuntary experimental subjects, industrial equipment, or as sources of entertainment. Dogs are worth more than pigs, horses more than cows, cats more than rats, and by far the most worthy species of all is our own one. Philosophers have referred to this phenomenon of discriminating individuals on the basis of their species membership as speciesism (Singer, 1975). Some of them have argued that speciesism is a form of prejudice analogous to racism or sexism.Whether speciesism actually exists and whether it is related to other forms of prejudice isn’t just a philosophical question, however. Fundamentally, these are hypotheses about human psychology that can be explored and tested empirically. Yet surprisingly, speciesism has been almost entirely neglected by psychologists (apart from a few). There have been fewer than 30 publications in the last 70 years on this topic as revealed by a Web of Science search for the keywords speciesism and human-animal relations in all psychology journals. While this search may not be totally exhaustive, it pales in comparison to the almost 3’000 publications on the psychology of racism in the same time frame. The fact that psychology has neglected speciesism is strange, given the relevance of the topic (we all interact with animals or eat meat), the prevalence of the topic in philosophy, and the strong focus psychology puts on other types of apparent prejudice. Researching how we assign moral status to animals should be an obvious matter of investigation for psychology.Together with my colleagues Jim A.C. Everett and Nadira S. Faber, we recently published a paper on speciesism in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Caviola, Everett, & Faber, 2018). Our aim was to establish speciesism as a topic in the field. To that end, we developed a Speciesism Scale: a standardised, validated, and reliable measurement instrument that can assess the extent to which a person has speciesist views. Our research demonstrated that there is indeed a unique psychological construct — speciesism — that determines to what extent people discriminate individuals on the basis of their species membership. This construct is not captured by other measures of prejudice or prosociality and it shows some interesting properties.

Source: The Psychology of Speciesism: How We Privilege Certain Animals Over Others | Practical Ethics

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