Prejudice And Speciesism Becoming More Recognizable
Our human tendency towards prejudice is an almost ubiquitous force in human societies, and the non-human cohabitants of those societies suffer immensely as a result. The nature of such attitudes seems to be something we’re aware of in each other – the reality of the discrimination we impose on animals is clear to us, on some level, as fundamentally wrong. In this study, researchers demonstrated this phenomenon by comparing discriminatory attitudes towards other humans with those expressed towards animals.
Specifically, this study asked if other people perceive speciesists’ attitudes as comparable to those of racists, sexists, and homophobes. It was conducted by a small, international team of researchers representing the U.K., Netherlands, and Australia, and focused in part on “Social Dominance Orientation,” or the belief that groups should be separated based on hierarchies, and that inequality is both useful and necessary.
The study itself was comprised of three experiments, looking at racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes, respectively. In the first, study participants took surveys measuring the degree of their own racist and speciesist attitudes. Then, they were rated by other participants on several qualities, such as morality, warmth, and an overall feeling towards them. Compared to a nonracist and nonspeciesist, both racists and speciesists were rated as generally less likable. Participants also felt that forms of discrimination make for a worse social partner across a variety of roles. The second experiment was a direct replication of the first, but with measures of sexism in place of the racist scale. The results were strikingly similar, showing that people perceive sexists and speciesists similarly as well.
In the final experiment, the authors used a classic psychological test known as the “Dictator Game” to see how people actually responded to speciesists—compared this time to homophobes—to supplement the other two sub-studies, which looked exclusively at self-reported information. Briefly, the Dictator Game involves giving some amount of money to another person. In this case, participants were offered the chance to gift part of their pay for taking part in the study to their fellow participants. The results showed that people rated as homophobes and speciesists were judged significantly more negatively and were gifted less money in the Dictator Game. Additionally, they were expected to be more racist and sexist.
The study shows evidence that speciesists, thus, are seen as poorly as people who display other forms of prejudice. This is important for several reasons. For one, it illustrates that we humans are clearly aware of the wrongness of mistreating animals. This should give us hope for the future of animal welfare and policies protecting it. Second, it brings to light a form of discrimination that people perceive as wrongheaded, but seemingly few are actually aware of. By bringing attention to the prejudice animals experience every day, advocacy stands a better chance of helping non-human animals. Finally, it illustrates more clearly that discrimination against is animals is a form of prejudice, and that it’s one people can recognize. While they may not be a social group in the sense that people of different races, men and women, or members of the LGBT community are, animals nonetheless deserve our protection.
Although these findings may feel clear or intuitive to anyone invested in animal advocacy, studies like this are a crucial step in communicating this fundamental view to the rest of the world.