Psychological Mechanisms in the Human Use of Animals


  • S. Plous

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    1. Wesleyan University
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      S. PLOUS earned his Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford University and is currently an assistant professor at Wesleyan University. He is a past recipient of the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize (awarded by SPSSI), and author of The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making (McGraw-Hill, 1993). Recently, his research has focused on ethical issues concerning animals and the environment.

Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459-0408


American society uses millions of animals each day for food, recreation, and a variety of other purposes, yet psychologists—in contrast to other social scientists—have devoted very little attention to studying how people think about their use of animals. In this article, I propose that many factors supporting the use of animals are psychological in nature and are therefore legitimate topics for psychological research. After a brief review of research on attitudes toward the use of animals, I discuss several psychological factors that enable people to harm animals for human benefit: (1) structural variables that dissociate consumptive practices from the infliction of harm, (2) mechanisms that reduce personal conflict when dissociation is threatened, (3) ingroup-outgroup biases, and (4) factors relating to the perceived similarity of animals and humans. Throughout, the emphasis is on opportunities for empirical research rather than ideological or philosophical arguments concerning animal rights.