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Empathic Correlates of Witnessing the Inhumane Killing of an Animal: An Investigation of Single and Multiple Exposures

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Seventy-five adults who reported witnessing at least 1 animal being killed inhumanely participated in a study of 5 measures of empathy from the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) (Davis, 1980) and the Animal Attitude Scale (AAS) (Herzog, Betchart, & Pittman, 1991): Perspective Taking (PT), Fantasy (FS), Emotional Concern (EC), Personal Distress (PD), and Animal Attitudes (AA). Females showed greater sensitivity (4 of 5 scales) on a 2-way MANOVA with Sex (male, female) and Witnessing Killing (never, once, multiple) as independent variables. Individuals who witnessed multiple killings were higher on PT and lower on PD scales. Lower PD for those who witnessed multiple killings suggests hardening or habituation related to exposure. Alternatively, they may lack resistance to involvement in situations leading to animal violence. Higher PT scores related to multiple killings may indicate a natural leaning toward the cognitive—rather than affective—or dissociation between cognitive and affective. A shift to the cognitive, as a defense mechanism, suggests a dissociation hypothesis. Implications extend to the need for refined research in the developmental sequence of animal abuse and empathy, and humane education.

Affiliations: 1: Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4, Canada;, Email:; 2: Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4, Canada


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