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Animal Cruelty and Antisocial Behavior: A Very Strong Link

Eleonora Gullone's book shows strong evidence links different types of abuse

Eleonora Gullone's new book titled "Animal Cruelty, Antisocial Behaviour, and Aggression: More Than a Link", published as part of the Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series, shows that there is strong empirical evidence linking different types of abuse. For many readers of Psychology Today who want to learn more about possible links between how nonhuman animals (animals) are treated and how this relates to cruelty to humans, this is an excellent book with which to begin. 

"The Link"

Eleonora Gullone is Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. She brings a strong research background to the topic of her book and this is highly valuable because it allows her to analyze what we know and don't know about the relationship between animal cruelty and antisocial behavior in general. She notes that what is generally called "The Link" refers to the idea that "acts of interpersonal violence are frequently preceded by, or co-occur with, acts of cruelty to animals, 'red flag' markers that previously were ignored." (p. ix) 

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Gullone's book is well-organized into ten chapters including "Historical and Current Conceptualization of Animal Cruelty", "The Development of Antisocial Behaviour", "Biological and Individual Difference Risk Factors", "Environmental Risk Factors", and "Aetiological Accounts of Animal Cruelty". In her last chapter she draws some general conclusions and highlights what is needed in future research.

One area in which much more research is needed concerns the development of animal cruelty behavior as there still is no study that has looked at its normative development. We also need more cross-cultural studies because "the conceptualization of animal cruelty as deviant ... will have varying validity, depending on that culture's animal treatment standards." (p. 131) We also need more research on animal cruelty itself and it is essential to remove the property status of animals in legal systems. Currently, animals are considered to be mere property, just like a couch, bicycle, or backpack.

Gullone argues that because animal cruelty is invariably and traditionally trumped by, but strongly linked to, human cruelty, we need to make animal cruelty more worthy of moral concern and a target of intervention so that we can learn more about the etiology of human cruelty. Thus, "By positioning acts of animal abuse within the continuum of other antisocial behaviours, rather than as isolated incidents or acceptable childhood rites of passage, we can gain more progress not only in reducing animal abuse but also in improving human safety and lowering tolerance levels for all acts of aggression." (p. x) And, there is some movement in this direction. Forty-seven of the fifty states in the U. S. A. have laws that consider certain acts of animal cruelty as felonies. Animal cruelty is also getting more attention in public media. The increasing attention is good because as Gullone notes, "many crimes against humans may well have been prevented had any animal cruelty incidents that preceded them been taken seriously." (Pp. 135-136)

All in all, Gullone's convincing case that there are strong empirical links among different types of abuse and violence, including animal cruelty, must be taken seriously. She concludes her book as follows: " ... laws should punish criminals according to the severity of the acts they perpetrate, without discrimination or favour based on the target species of the particular crime." (p. 139) On her account, because of the well-established link among different types of abuse and violence, both nonhuman and human animals will greatly benefit from intervention. 

As someone coming to this field with little knowledge but with more than passing interest, I found this book to be well worth the read. It really got me thinking about how important it is that nonhuman animals be granted much more legal protection and how animal cruelty needs to be taken much more seriously than it currently is. And by doing this, both nonhuman and humans animals will greatly benefit. A win-win situation for all. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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