How We Value and Devalue Animals

Human-animal relations are rife with psychological conflicts and paradoxes.

Posted Dec 23, 2019

Along with my collaborator Kristof Dhont (University of Kent, UK), I was recently interviewed by Marc Bekoff, an expert on animal behavior. The purpose of the interview was to discuss our new book Why We Love And Exploit Animals: Bridging Insights From Academia And Advocacy. You can find the interview on Bekoff’s webpage.

Given that our interview ran long, some sections didn’t make the cut, including our brainstorming session where we derived the idea. I’ll let my collaborator pick up this part of the story.

Kristof:

The idea for this book started when Gordon was visiting me in Kent for a research visit and a conference in the summer of 2016. We were both attending the conference of the International Society for Justice Research taking place in my department and we had organised a symposium on the psychology of “(de)valuing animals”.

After the conference, we were sitting outside a local pub near Canterbury, having a beer, musing over the symposium and contemplating our next research projects. We were discussing how wonderful and important it is that more and more people in our own field have started to investigate topics such as the psychology of human-animal relations, veganism, speciesism, and meat consumption. The sea change was evident.

After years of psychologists being interested in animals only as research participants, psychologists are becoming increasingly interested in animals themselves, and in human-animal relations. Indeed, along with collaborators Steve Loughnan and Catherine Amiot, Kristof and I recently edited an entire volume of the mainstream journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations (that does not normally cover animal topics), entitled (De)Valuing Animals: Intergroup Perspectives on Human-Animal Relations. After years of struggling to get the attention of psychologists, we (along with others) have finally convinced the psychological field that there is tremendous value in better understanding animals and our relation to animals. That is, we not only learn about animals, but we learn a great deal about human psychology by studying human-animal interactions.

On the book’s webpage, you can find the table of contents and contributors. But what you won’t find are the broad themes outlined in the book across the chapters. These themes can be broken into three main categories.

1. The nature of our problem with animals

  • Animal welfare and rights
  • Undervaluing animals
  • Animals as competitive threats to humans
  • Social identification concerning animals
  • Culture as a shaper of animal-relevant thoughts and actions
  • Ideology and politics
  • The intertwining of speciesism with human-human prejudices (e.g., racism, sexism)

2. How we live with the problem rather than change our behaviour

3. Reflections on solutions and remedies

  • A focus on psychological constructs
  • Redirecting goals
  • Redirecting actions
  • Education
  • Tapping into and leveraging human nature

What should be immediately obvious to psychologists and readers alike is that these themes are directly relevant to psychology in general. Topics such as threat, identification, cognitive rationalizations, goal-directed behavior, these are the very bread and butter of many psychological theories, and indeed fill many of the pages at Psychology Today.

The domain of human-animal relations, therefore, represents an underappreciated, untapped, yet rich context for exploring what makes us human.

References

To learn more about the book, please visit the book’s website. (If you purchase a copy before December 31st 2019, you’ll be entitled to a 30% discount if you use the promotion code “ADS19”).

Dhont, K., & Hodson, G. (Eds.) (2020). Why we love and exploit animals: Bridging insights from academia and advocacy. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Dhont, K., Hodson, G., Loughnan, S, & Amiot, C.E. (2019). (Editors). (De)Valuing animals: Intergroup perspectives on human-animal relations (Special issue of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations). Volume 22 (6). 

Dhont, K., Hodson, G., Loughnan, S., & Amiot, C.E. (2019). Rethinking human-animal relations: The critical role of social psychology. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 22, 769-784. DOI: 10.1177/1368430219864455

Earle, M., Hodson, G., Dhont, K., & MacInnis, C.C. (2019). Eating with our eyes (closed): Effects of visually associating animals with meat on antivegan/vegetarian attitudes and meat consumption willingness. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 22, 818-835. DOI: 10.1177/1368430219861848