Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Caring about animal abuse has a lot to do with human psychology

Our relationships with other animals require psychological studies

Our relationships with other animals are complicated and we still have much to learn about the nature of human-animal interactions including how they develop and why they vary as much as they do. In response to recent essay on the intense suffering endured by animals who are used for fur this comment was posted anonymously:

What does this have to do with psychology? I'm tired of the endless anthropomorphizing of animals in our society. I honestly don't care if people wear fur or if animals suffered so those garments can be made.

The product is useful and valuable to humans, so humans will continue to want/make these products.

Animals suffer all the time at the hands of people, that's because they're lower on the food chain. Almost everything you own or do has harmed an animal in some way either directly or indirectly. I'm not just talking about pork chops. Habitat encroachment via urbanization, deforestation, collateral damage from natural resource utilization, pollution, all of it.

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Animals are food not friends.

I'd like to believe this is a minority view but i'm not sure it is given the global wanton and rampant abuse of billions of sentient and non-sentient animals. i don't usually respond to comments but others did and I received a few personal emails about the above comment. Here's a brief response. 

So, what do caring about animals and animal abuse have to do with human psychology? A lot! In an earlier essay on the emergence of the field of conservation psychology I wrote:

We know that animals have rich and deep emotional lives and some may be moral beings. Abuse is typically due to the inadequate protection of animals and social and cultural factors. Therefore, we must address the important psychological and social/cultural issues that support our poor stewardship of animals (and their habitats) and learn about the psychological barriers that prevent people from facing and addressing the complex, frustrating, and urgent issues that allow animal abuse to continue in laboratories, classrooms, various forms of entertainment, and in slaughterhouses, the clothing industry, and in their natural habitats. It's here that the social sciences can help us along.

Conservation psychology is defined as "the scientific study of the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with a particular focus on how to encourage conservation of the natural world. … This applied field uses psychological principles, theories, or methods to understand and solve issues related to human aspects of conservation." 

People who care about animals and nature don't have to be apologists for their views and should not be considered "the radicals" or "bad guys" who are trying to impede "human progress." Nor should their interests in animals and the environment be viewed as tangential to the field of psychology. When animals die, we die too. Animals are needed for our own psychological well-being and we can learn a lot from them. We are that connected to other beings and that's why we seek them out when times are tough.

It's rarely a lack of knowledge and concrete data that result in animal abuse and unprecedented losses of biodiversity in what is called the "anthropocene", a latter part of the "sixth extinction" to which we are the major contributors. Animal abuse and losses in biodiversity are bad for the animals and bad for us. And, of course, there's much research being performed so that we may come to a better understanding of the link between animal abuse and human violence

Conservation psychology, conservation education, and humane education will surely help figure out the best ways to move forward and to give animals the respect, compassion, and love they deserve. As we learn more all animals, nonhuman and human, will surely benefit.

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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