I recently received an email message from a woman named Athea Marcos Amir who lives in Mexico.
Dr. Herzog,
I probably hate animals more than anyone you've ever studied…To
me they represent chaos and filth, two things I abhor. Has anyone studied
people like me?

Dmitry Lobanov/123RF
Source: Dmitry Lobanov/123RF

Athea raises a question I have been interested in for many years. Why do people differ so much in how much they like and identify with members of other species? People like Athea dislike or even despise animals, yet others dedicate their lives to protecting members of other species. Indeed, one of my first research forays into the psychology of human-animal relationships was a study of animal rights activists (here).

Athea asked if there been any studies of people who dislike animals. My initial response was no. But after her question rattled around in my brain for a while, I remembered an article recently published in the journal PLOS One by Catherine Amiot of the University of Quebec and Brock Bastian of the University of Queensland. (In 2015, these researchers published an outstanding review (here) of the state of research on the psychology of human-animal interactions.)

Their PLOS article reported the results of a series of eight studies using a brief scale they developed to examine individual differences in the degree that people feel solidarity with other species. Even though the scale only has five items, it has excellent psychometric properties (high reliability and validity). I suggest you take it now.

The Solidarity with Animals Scale

Instructions. To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the five items below? Respond using this one to seven point scale:

—Strongly Disagree – one point
—Disagree – two points
—Somewhat Disagree – three points
—Neither Agree or Disagree – four points
—Somewhat Agree – five points
—Agree – six points
—Strongly Agree – seven points

Item 1. I feel a strong bond toward other animals.
Item 2. I feel solidarity toward animals.
Item 3. I feel close to other animals.
Item 4. I feel a strong connection to other animals.
Item 5. I feel committed toward animals.

Scoring: Add up the points for your responses over the items and divide by five. This is your Solidarity with Animals score.

Because Athea equates animals with “chaos and filth,” I suspect her score would be a one. On the other hand, my friend Laura Wright, author of the book The Vegan Studies Project, is a life-long animal activist and dog rescuer. She would probably get a seven, the maximum score. As with many psychological scales, most people will fall somewhere in the middle.

I emailed Catherine Amiot about how readers can interpret their animal solidarity scores. She replied that a conservative interpretation would be that people scoring over five have a high degree of solidarity with animals and people scoring below three feel low solidarity. She also noted that there were sex differences in some (but not all) of their studies using the scale. A total of about 1,100 people participated in the eight

Graph by Hal Herzog
Source: Graph by Hal Herzog

studies, and roughly 2/3rds of them were women. As is often the case with sex differences in attitudes toward animals (see here), female participants tended to score a bit higher than male participants. But Catherine warned me against making too much out of these findings. The size of sex differences varied among the studies, and gender was not a primary focus of this research.

Differences Between Low and High Solidarity with Animals

The results of the study were fascinating. Here are some of the highlights. (For more details, you can read the full text of the article here.)

  • People who felt high solidarity with animals were more concerned with animal welfare and more apt to think of themselves as part of the natural world.
  • People with low solidarity with animals were more prejudiced against other creatures and viewed humans as superior to other species.
  • To my surprise, identification with animals and identification with other people are separate traits. The researchers found no relationship at all between solidarity with animals scores and feelings of solidarity towards humans.
  • People who felt high solidarity with animals also scored higher on empathy and openness to new experiences, and they were more likely to think anthropomorphically about animals.
  • High animal identifiers were more likely to have “anxious” attachments to their pets, while people with low identification with animal scores tended to have “avoidant” attachment styles with their pets. (See this Psychology Today post by Susan Whitbourne for an excellent discussion of pet attachment styles.)
  • People who identified with animals had more pets.
  • There were no differences in the animal solidarity scores of dog owners and cat owners.
  • Solidarity with animals was not related to the participants’ ages, religion, or socio-economic status.
  • People who felt less solidarity with animals ate meat more frequently. Conversely, people with high solidarity to animals were more likely to be vegetarians.
  • Duncan Daniel/123RF
    Source: Duncan Daniel/123RF

    Feelings of solidarity with animals can be temporarily increased by viewing photographs of animals with human-like facial expressions.

  • Feeling solidarity with animals is a stable characteristic. In one study, people who completed the Solidarity with Animals scale were tested five months later on a series of animal-related items. Their earlier scores on the scale predicted a number of outcomes that have implications for the treatment of animals. These included how much money they said they would donate to animal charities, whether they were an animal rights activist, their degree of moral concern for animals, and the degree they favored humans over pets. Their scores five months previously also predicted whether they felt 10 dogs should be saved rather than a single human in a hypothetical life or death situation (the trolley problem).

Back to Athea...

Based on these studies, Drs. Amiot and Bastian concluded “on average, people do feel solidarity with other animals.” This statement, however, does not apply to people like Athea. Just after I finished this post, I got another e-mail from her. This time Athea explained that her dislike of animals dates from her early childhood. She wrote:

I'm 84 years old so I've had a long, long time to study this problem…When I was small, my father, who liked animals, made several attempts to make me like them, all of which failed. He bought me a Scotch terrier and came home one day asking where I dog was. I said whatever was the five-year-old equivalent to "how the f*** do I know, and why in hell would I care?" The dog had run away, thank goodness. Later he bought me a pony, a cart, English riding boots...the whole shebang. We were very poor, my mother said, and she wanted to kill him for spending the money. In junior high he bought me a monkey, which I truly despised, but of course my friends adored it. 

I'm trying to be honest. The adoration I felt and feel for my own children and the cute babies I encounter I've never felt for an animal.

Athea wants to know why she finds kittens and puppies disgusting, while most people thinks they are adroable. We just don’t know. But Athea may not be as unusual as she thinks. When I would ask students in my classes if they know someone who dislikes or is afraid of the family or household pet, about 1/3rd of the hands go up.

While I cringe when I say it, this is yet another case where “more research is needed.”

   *     *     *     *

Hal Herzog is professor emeritus of psychology at Western Carolina University and the author of Some We Love, Some We Hate,Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.

References

Amiot, C. E., & Bastian, B. (2017). Solidarity with animals: Assessing a relevant dimension of social identification with animals. PloS one, 12(1), e0168184.

Amiot, C. E., & Bastian, B. (2015). Toward a psychology of human–animal relations. Psychological Bulletin, 141(1), 6.

Herzog, H. A. (1993). “The movement is my life”: The psychology of animal rights activism. Journal of Social Issues, 49(1), 103-119.

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