Cyberbullying And Animal Abuse: A Comparison
The association between animal abuse and interpersonal violence is well documented, including links between animal abuse and domestic violence in many types of relationships as well as bullying. This study, published in Psychology, Crime & Law, explored connections between animal abuse and both traditional bullying and cyberbullying. It also examined the role of beliefs about aggression in animal abuse and bullying.
The authors administered a series of surveys to 439 undergraduate students, including 267 females and 172 males, in a psychology course: the Experiences with Animals (EWA) survey, a survey that includes questions asking if participants have ever killed, hurt, or tortured animals; the Normative Beliefs About Aggression Scale (NOBAGS), a survey used to measure approval of aggression in general and approval of aggression as a form of retaliation; the Bully/Victim Questionnaire (BVQ), a survey used to assess participants’ history of being a victim or perpetrator of bullying; and the Cyberbullying and Online Aggression Survey, a survey used to assess the extent to which participants have been victims or perpetrators of cyberbullying.
Significant results include the following:
- Results from the EWA indicated that 44 males (26%) and 22 females (8%) had engaged in animal abuse, including 13 who had killed a pet, 33 who had killed a stray, 36 who had has teased or tortured an animal, and 7 who had used threats of harm to an animal as a method of intimidation against a person.
- Combined results from all four surveys showed that among males, animal abusers scored significantly higher than non-abusers on NOBAGS General Approval of Aggression, Cyberbullying Perpetration, and BVQ Bullying scales. Among females, animal abusers scored significantly higher than non-abusers on NOBAGS Approval of Retaliation, Cyberbullying Perpetration, and BVQ Bullying scales.
- An examination of the relationships between NOBAGS, BVQ, and Cyberbullying questions yielded a detailed list of correlations among scales. For both genders, Cyberbullying Perpetration was positively associated with Cyberbullying Victimization, NOBAGS General Approval of Aggression and Approval of Retaliation scales, and BVQ Bullying and Victimization scales. Additionally, BVQ Bulling was positively associated with BVQ victimization.
- Results from hierarchical regression analysis examining the relationship between animal abuse and attitude showed that NOBAGS Approval of Aggression scale was a significant predictor of animal abuse before BVQ and Cyberbullying variables were added but was not significant after they were added.
The authors note that the study not only confirms findings from others indicating that animal abusers are more likely to be perpetrators of traditional bullying but is also the first investigation to demonstrate a link between animal abuse and cyberbullying. They also highlight results showing differences in genders, including findings that “males are almost four times more likely to be identified as an animal abuser than females,” “males reported significantly more general approval of aggression and stronger endorsement of the use of aggression for retaliatory purposes compared to their female counterparts,” and “male perpetrators expressed significantly more general approval of aggression, while female abusers endorsed aggression for retaliation.”
In regards to normative beliefs about aggression, the authors state that “results revealed that the likelihood of individuals engaging in animal abuse is significantly greater among those who hold accepting attitudes about aggression.” However, as regression analysis showed that the addition of bullying variables caused the attitude variable to no longer be a significant, the authors suggest that “the reason accepting views of aggression are associated with animal abuse is because such attitudes reflect a generalized tendency/willingness to behave aggressively in a variety of contexts, as evidenced by participation in bullying and cyberbullying as well as animal abuse.”
The authors extend the above finding to suggest that “animal abuse can be construed as a particular manifestation of a more generalized antisocial tendency.” They therefore note that animal abuse should be seen as a “‘red flag’ for subsequent or co-occuring violent behavior, including bullying,” and recommend that “efforts to prevent or reduce aggressive behavior should consider the integration of attitude assessment and education into their programs.”
The study offers some interesting information for advocates, including the alarmingly high percentage of participants—particularly male participants—who admitted to hurting or killing an animal by the time they were in college. The links that the study identified between animal abuse, bulling, and beliefs about aggression also suggest that advocates who work to prevent animal abuse might consider partnering with organizations who aim stop bullying to spread their messages to a broader audience of people who more generally approve of the use of aggression.