Our relationships with other animals is complex, frustrating, challenging, and goes all over the place. I've written about this in many different essays. It's clear we need a wide-ranging research agenda to come to a fuller understanding of who we are and who "they" other animals are.
I was recently talking with Katherine Schrieber, a staff editor for Psychology Today, about the rapidly growing field of human-animal studies (see also) and she asked if I'd heard about the research of Gordon Hodson and his colleagues at Brock University in St. Catherine's, Ontario, Canada, and I had not (see also). Katherine sent me a copy of a paper by Kimberly Costello and Professor Hodson titled "Exploring the roots of dehumanization: The role of animal–human similarity in promoting immigrant humanization" and it opened up a new world of ideas for studying not only human-animal relationships but also human-human relationships. We still know little about the origins of dehumanization although it's rather widespread on my fronts.
An abstract of this paper can be seen here and I'm sure Professor Hodson (email@example.com) would send a PDF of the entire essay upon request.
In a nutshell, Costello and Hodson were interested in what factors led to the humanization of immigrants and they discovered that "beliefs that animals and humans are relatively similar were associated with greater immigrant humanization, which in turn predicted more favorable immigrant attitudes ... Emphasizing animals as similar to humans (versus humans as similar to animals, or the human—animal divide) resulted in greater immigrant humanization (even among highly prejudiced people)." (my emphasis)
They also write (p. 19): "Recognizing that heightened immigrant dehumanization and prejudice follow from an exaggerated human–animal divide, it now becomes imperative to determine when and how beliefs about human superiority or animal inferiority develop. Children are socialized to endorse perceptions of human superiority over other animals through parental influence, religious teachings, cultural traditions, and/or experiences with industries condoning the exploitation of non-human animals. These socialization practices presumably lead children to endorse the cultural “legitimacy” of dominating, victimizing, or ignoring the plight of non-human animals."
Rehumanizing and rewilding
The authors also write about the importance of "rehumanizing" outgroups. I've written about the foible of human exceptionalism elsewhere and their insights are very helpful to me as I ponder how we can and must rewild our hearts and reconnect with other animals (often thought of outgroups in the same way as are immigrants) and nature as a whole.
I look forward to much more research in this challenging area.
Note: Another essay extends the research of Hodson and his colleages. In the abstract of this paper they write: "Comparing animals to humans expands moral concern and reduces speciesism; however, comparing humans to animals does not appear to produce these same effects."