- Children view all animals, including farm animals, as deserving equal rights and respect, similar to household pets and humans, according to a study from the United Kingdom.
- The perception of “speciesism,” the practice of attributing unequal value to different animal species, becomes normalized during our teenage years and continues into adulthood.
- As individuals age, they are more likely to categorize farm animals as “food” whereas children distribute the categories of “food” and “pets” more equally.
- Adults still maintain an aversion to harming animals, despite finding the consumption of meat less morally questionable than animal-derived products like milk.
- A shift to offering more plant-based foods in schools could better align with children’s ethical values and reduce the normalization of adult perceptions, thus encouraging a more equal outlook towards all animal species.
According to a recent investigation from the United Kingdom, children have a significantly different outlook on animal rights compared to adults. This study indicates that children view farm animals as deserving the same respect and care as people and their pet companions. Furthermore, children are less inclined to see the consumption of animals as ethically justifiable.
Survey Conducted Across Different Age Groups
The comprehensive study surveyed 479 participants from England, grouped into three different age clusters: 9-11, 18-21, and 29-59. They were asked about their attitudes towards the treatment of pigs on farms, pet dogs, and human beings.
The report suggests that “speciesism” – the practice of attributing unequal value to different animal species – becomes entrenched during our teenage years. “In adolescence, our affection for animals seems to get complicated and we tend to develop more speciesism,” explained co-author of the study, Luke McGuire from the University of Exeter.
Varied Perspectives on Farm Animals as Pets or Food
Moreover, the researchers observed that as individuals aged, they were more prone to categorize farm animals as “food” rather than pets. On the other hand, children seemed to associate pigs more equally between these two categories.
“While adults in our study did find consuming meat less morally acceptable compared to animal-derived products like milk, they didn’t completely abandon their aversion to harming animals, including farm animals,” McGuire highlighted.
The Ethical Double Standard of Humans and Animals
McGuire further emphasized our intricate relationship with animals, stating, “It is replete with ethical double standards. Some animals are cherished as members of the family, whereas others are reared in factory farms for profit. Our judgments largely depend on the species of the animal. Dogs are considered friends while pigs are seen as food.”
While changing perspectives are a normal part of maturation, the “moral intelligence of children” shouldn’t be overlooked. “If we wish to encourage a shift towards plant-based diets for environmental reasons, we must challenge the current system,” McGuire suggested.
Encouraging Plant-Based Diets for Future Generations
“For instance, serving more plant-based food in schools could align better with children’s ethical values and might reduce the ‘normalization’ of adult values that our study pinpoints,” posits McGuire.
The findings of this study can be found in the publication, Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Readers can learn more about the benefits of ethical farming at the Ethical Farming Fund.
Source: University of Exeter, news release