Animal ‘Outgroups’ And Ideology
There are two contrasting portrayals of animal “outgroups” in our society: (1) that they are threatening and dangerous, and (2) that they are somewhat stupid and of a low status in the food chain. In the most basic sense, human behaviour towards animals depends on how these animals are perceived. This study wanted to see if we can predict behavioural intentions toward animal outgroups that we think of as potentially threatening, such as wolves in the wild, and toward animal outgroups that are perceived to be low in status.
Individuals endorsing both right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO) show prejudice towards outgroups, although they have different underlying motivations. Motives for RWA relate to a threatening and dangerous worldview, and the need for conventionality and authoritarianism. Meanwhile, people who show higher SDO perceive the world as a competitive jungle, and support prejudice and discrimination against lower status groups in order to maintain the status quo and relative privileges of higher status groups.
Based on these two different underlying motives, the researchers developed a model of ideology and prejudice, which proposed that outgroups – certain wild animal species, in this case – that are perceived to be threatening are rejected by authoritarians, while outgroups that are perceived to be lower in status are rejected by people higher in SDO.
The results showed that RWA predicts support for restricting the distribution of wolves and bears in the wild, but only when they’re considered to be threatening for humans. On the other hand, SDO had an indirect effect on the legitimization of meat consumption because of people’s beliefs about human supremacy, regardless of whether the animal species was characterized as lower or higher in status compared to other animals. The authors suggest that information about the status of the animal group was irrelevant to participants because eating meat is a social norm, and all animals are perceived as having a lower status (compared to humans).
The central message of the paper is twofold: beliefs and behaviors directed at animal outgroups are dependent upon (1) how an animal group is perceived, and (2) people’s endorsement of different ideologies. First, people differ in their beliefs and behavioral intentions towards animals based on their perceived threat and status. Second, based on their ideologies, people differ in their support for restricting the movement of potentially dangerous animals in the wild, and in their justification of meat consumption.
On a practical level, the paper applies to Germany, where it was written, in a particular way. There, the wolf population is increasing and if Germans do not exterminate wolves in the wild, they need to accept their presence. The authors recommend trying to increase acceptance of the wolves by changing the image of the wolf as a dangerous predator. For instance, children grow up learning about Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. In these fairy tales, the wolf is threatening. The authors suggest that parents could prevent this negative image of wolves by being more careful when selecting the fairy tales they read to their children. When it comes to the legitimacy of eating meat, the authors suggest it would be helpful to promote equality in society, rather than human superiority beliefs, and to raise children with the awareness that humans and animals can peacefully coexist.