Enhancing Children's Attitudes About The Humane Treatment of Animals:to Human-Direct Empathy

Escrito por Nuria Querol i Viñas.

We assessed the impact of a year-long, school-based humane education program on younger (first and second graders) and older (fourth and fifth graders) children's attitudes toward the treatment of animals.

Enhancing Children's Attitudes About The Humane Treatment of Animals: Generalization to Human-Directed Empathy*




We assessed the impact of a year-long, school-based humane education program on younger (first and second graders) and older (fourth and fifth graders) children's attitudes toward the treatment of animals. Generalization to human-directed empathy was also measured. Using a pretest/post-test design and ANCOVA, we found that the program enhanced the animal-related attitudes of children differentially, depending on grade level. For younger children, there was no significant difference between experimental (E) and control (C) group attitude means; however, qualitative analysis showed that greater enhancement of attitudes occurred for first grade E group children than for C group children at that grade level. No differences were present on the generalization measure of empathy. For older children, there was a significant difference between E and C group attitude means qualified by grade level—there was greater enhancement of humane attitudes for E group than for C group fourth graders but no difference for fifth graders. On the generalization measure of empathy, post-test means for the E group were significantly greater than means for the C group regardless of grade level. The results contribute to the growing literature on the relation between children and animals and serve to encourage and validate the efforts of humane educators to improve children's caring and kindness toward companion and noncompanion animals.


The role of nonhuman animals, especially pets or companion animals, in the psychological and social development of children has been the focus of numerous calls for increased research attention (e.g., Levinson 1983; Westerlund 1982). Heeding these calls are researchers whose efforts have been aimed at the study and enhancement of children's attitudes toward the care and treatment of and respect for animals. Developmental changes in the quality of children's humane attitudes have been assessed by Kellert and Westervelt (1983); Rheingold and Emery (1986) have explored the roots of such attitudes in the second year of human life; Fogel, Melson, and Mistry (1986) have included values and attitudes toward animals as underlying one of the many forms of nurturance that children may display; Kanner et al. (1987) included pet-related items in their measures of "uplifts and hassles" in early adolescence; and Bryant (1985) has explored how relations with companion animals may relate to children's empathic tendencies toward people. Other evidence of revitalized attention to this area is the number of child-related papers included in the 1985 Special Issue of the journal Marriage and Family Review, which focused on "Pets and the Family."


A topic of interest in this general area is the effectiveness of school-based humane education programs in enhancing children's understanding about and attitudes and behavior toward companion and noncompanion animals. The focus of this project was assessing the impact of a year-long humane education program on children's attitudes toward animals. The generalization of such attitudes to human empathy was also of interest. Following a review of the relevant literature, the specific aims of this study will be presented.


Review of literature


Pets or companion animals are an integral part of the ecology of many children in the United States. Pet ownership has been found to be significantly more common in families with school-aged children and adolescents than in families without children (Albert and Bulcroft 1988). In samples from California and Connecticut, children reported pet ownership ranging from 52%, for kindergartners, to 75%, for fifth graders (Ascione, Latham, and Worthen 1985). Higher rates of pet ownership in a sample of older children have been reported by Bryant (1990). The numbers confirm the importance of attending to the human-companion animals relation (Kidd and Kidd 1987; National Institute of Health 1988).


The study of the role of child-animal relations potentially pervades most of the significant domains of developmental analysis (Poresky, Hendrix, and Woroby 1988) and, historically, is represented in the early developmental psychology literature (e.g., Bucke 1903; Hall and Browne 1904; Lehman 1927). Therefore, some restriction of the scope of the following review was essential. In this research, the focus was on the development of humane attitudes in school-aged children and the effects of intervention efforts designed to enhance such attitudes.


Eisenberg (1988) writes: "Although there is very little research concerning the teaching of humane attitudes towards animals to children, it appears as if there is a need to do so." In this section, I review a number of studies that have attempted to assess educative efforts to enhance children's attitudes toward the humane treatment of animals. Some of these studies focus on animals in general and others emphasize the treatment of companion animals. Two general conclusions emerge. First, children's attitudes in this domain can be enhanced. Second, there has yet to be implemented a school-based program of sufficient intensity to demonstrate significant improvements in children's animal-related attitudes.


One of the first studies to investigate the effects of intervention on children's attitudes toward animals was conducted by Vockell and Hodal (1980). Their report focused on the impact of "typical 'one shot' humane education programs" on a measure of children's humaneness. The programs consisted of a single school visit by a humane educator coupled with the provision of printed materials and posters. Third through sixth grade classrooms received either a visit (of unspecified duration but presumably the length of one class period) and print material (referred to as the "intensive treatment") or print material alone ("light treatment"), or neither (control classrooms). Although the children in this study were not pretested, they were post-tested on two forms of the authors' Fireman Test, designed to assess the degree of children's favorable attitudes toward animal life (children are asked to select from a list of inanimate possessions and pets that they would attempt to rescue from a burning home). Vockell and Hodal report that the two treatment classrooms' mean scores exceeded that of the control group for one form of the Fireman Test but not for the other. Neither treatment condition was judged superior.


One problem not addressed was why the control groups' performances on the two presumably equivalent tests differed so greatly (.99 for the "Johnny" form and 1.68 for the "Billy" form). Furthermore, without pretest information it was possible that the various groups differed significantly in their humane attitudes prior to the implementation of the programs. Nevertheless, the authors concluded that the intervention failed.


In a similarly designed study, Fitzgerald (1981) compared a variety of school-based interventions in 16 fifth and sixth grade classrooms and included the important design feature of pretesting children. The four conditions were (1) repeated treatment (RT) in which a master teacher presented four humane education lessons over a two-month period (once every two weeks); (2) intensive treatment (IT) where the information contained in RT was covered in a single class session; (3) light treatment (LT), which involved the provision of reading material without any direct instruction; and (4) a control condition— no humane education efforts occurred. Al1 classrooms were pre- and post-tested using the Fireman Tests. Analysis of covariance indicated that the mean score for the IT condition was significantly more humane than mean scores for any of the three other groups (RT, LT, and control). The three other groups also did not differ significantly from each other. Fitzgerald concluded that a focused classroom presentation made by a master teacher could have a positive impact on children's humane attitudes.


Cameron (1983) investigated two forms of humane education using seven eighth grade classrooms and their effects on animal-related attitudes. Two classrooms were given reading material and media presentations (PRINT), two were provided the above together with lectures delivered by the instructor (LECTURE), and the remaining three classrooms served as a control group. The instruction in the PRINT and LECTURE groups lasted for three school weeks for a total of approximately 14 hours of in-class exposure. All children were pre- and post-tested on an instrument tapping animal-related attitudes. Using analysis of variance, Cameron found that the mean post-test attitude scores of the PRINT and LECTURE groups were more positive than the control group's mean score; although the PRINT and LECTURE groups did not differ, and the LECTURE and control groups did not differ, the PRINT group mean score was higher than that of the control group. This study demonstrated that a more intensive intervention can have a positive impact on children's attitudes toward animals even with children older than those studied by either Vockell and Hodal (1980) or Fitzgerald (1981). One limitation of this study, however, was that the attitude instrument developed by Cameron included only three items (of the 25 total) clearly related to the care and treatment of companion animals. Also, in studies of this nature, the individual who provides the instruction should not conduct the assessments (to avoid potential bias). That was not the case in this study.


Malcarne (1981) studied a small group (33 children) of third and fourth graders to assess the effects of drama and role-playing on children's empathy and prosocial behavior toward humans and animals. One-third of the sample received dramatization and role-playing experience related to human victims of distress, one-third with animal victims, and the remaining third were read "The Gift of the Sacred Dogs" with discussion focused on the story content rather than role taking. Each condition lasted for one hour. All children were then post-tested (no pretests were given) on three measures: (1) story resolution where either a human or an animal victim of distress was the subject—the child's response was scored for helping and empathy, (2) the Fireman Test, and (3) children's willingness to volunteer time at either a children's hospital or an animal shelter— the number of hours mentioned was the dependent variable. Malcarne found that children trained to role-play around animal distress scored higher on the Fireman test than did the other two groups. Both treatment groups had higher scores on the animal version of the story resolution test than the control group and expressed a greater willingness to volunteer at a children's hospital than did the control group. Willingness to volunteer at an animal shelter was higher for the group trained to role-play around animal distress than for the other two groups. Although this study provided important information regarding the relation between empathy for humans and for animals, an issue also addressed by Bailey and Doescher (1991) and Melson (1991), the absence of pretesting makes interpretation problematic.


In an evaluation of school-based humane education efforts sponsored by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Hein (1987) reported the effects of a single humane education presentation in the second grade and a series of three presentations in the third, fourth, and fifth grades on children's attitudes toward the treatment of animals.  As described in the report, the presentations consisted of fewer than three hours of total instruction. Hein found that, in comparison to a no-intervention control group, classrooms receiving humane education in the second, third, and fourth grades demonstrated statistically significant increases in humane attitudes. No effects were obtained for fifth graders. He cautions that changes obtained at the second grade could be attributed to large increases in humane attitudes for a small number of children and that changes for third and fourth graders were restricted to attitude scale items directly related to the specific instruction provided (i.e., changes may have resulted from "teaching to the test"). One of Hein's recommendations was that substantially more intensive instruction is needed in humane education to effect significant changes in attitudes.


Finally, using the National Association for Humane and Environmental Education's (NAHEE) curriculum guides, Ascione, Latham, and Worthen (1985) assessed the effects of a school-based intervention, implemented by teachers, on children's humane attitudes. A total of 77 teachers and their 1,800 pupils (K through 6th grade) were randomly assigned to either an intervention condition (E group) or a no-intervention condition (C group). Children were pre- and post-tested on a Primary Attitude Scale (PAS) or Intermediate Attitude Scale (IAS) depending on their grade level. These instruments assessed attitudes toward companion and noncompanion animals. Teachers implemented NAHEE's curriculum over the course of the school year and reported that, on the average, 10 hours were spent on humane education material.


Results showed that mean PAS post-test scores were higher for E group kindergarteners and first graders than for C group children. Although the E-C group difference was in the expected direction for second graders, this difference was not statistically significant. No gender differences were found in the PAS analysis. For the IAS, significant grade and gender differences were found (mean humane attitude scores were higher for girls and higher for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders than for third graders) and a treatment (EvsC) effect that approached significance (p < .08). Subsequent analyses showed that E group third graders at one site (California) and fourth graders at the other site (Connecticut) scored more humanely than C group children at those grades and sites.


This study demonstrated that children's attitudes toward the treatment of animals could be measured reliably in a developmentally sensitive manner. The attitude scales developed were also sensitive to gender and grade differences and to a relatively weak educational intervention. Given the fact that only 10 total hours of instruction were devoted to this program over the entire school year, a question that needed to be addressed was whether a more intensive intervention would produce more dramatic and consistent increases in children's animal-related attitudes (a point stressed in Eisenberg 1988).



Statement of specific aims and study questions


Given that most humane education efforts have involved interventions of relatively short duration and weak intensity, there was a need for a study of humane education that represented substantial instruction within a design that reduced interpretational problems. The following questions were addressed: Will a 40-hour school-based program of humane education significantly enhance the animal-related attitudes of first and second graders and fourth and fifth graders? Will this enhancement exceed that displayed by what may be maturational changes in a comparison group of children not exposed to this program? How are children's empathic tendencies related to their attitudes toward the care and treatment of animals? Do program effects on attitudes generalize to children's empathic tendencies?






This study used a pretest/post-test design with 16 classrooms randomly assigned to an experimental group (E) and 16 to a control group (C). Volunteer teachers either implemented the humane education curriculum during an entire school year (E group) or were asked to refrain from systematic instruction in humane education (C group). Pupils in each classroom were pre- and post-tested on a measure of attitudes toward the humane treatment of animals and a measure of empathy toward humans (to assess generalization effects to the interpersonal domain and as a tie to other humane education studies with children). Analyses of covariance (using pretest scores as the covariate) were used to assess the impact of the curriculum on children's attitudes and empathy. Gender and experience with companion animals were also entered as factors in the analyses together with grade level (cross-sectional comparisons).




Teacher Recruitment. Following school district and Institutional Review Board approval, letters describing the project were distributed to elementary-level teachers in two northern Utah school districts. In this initial contact, teachers were asked to indicate their interest in the project and respond to questions about the grade level they would teach the coming year, prior experience with humane education generally, and prior use of the specific curriculum to be used in this study. They were asked whether they agreed to be randomly assigned to either the experimental or control group should they be selected for inclusion in the study.


Responses indicating interest were received from 91 teachers, 66 of whom met project requirements. At each grade level, eight teachers were randomly selected for inclusion in the project and then each teacher within a grade level was randomly assigned to the experimental or control group.


Final Teacher Sample. All first, second, and fourth grade teachers were women. For the fifth grade, there were six men (four in the experimental group) and two women (both in the control group). None of the 32 teachers indicated prior experience with the curriculum guides to be used in this study and only two mentioned general experience with humane education beyond a field trip to a zoo or a visit by a Humane Society representative (one fourth grade experimental group teacher had experience with Project Wild and a second grade experimental group teacher did not specify the humane education program with which she had experience). There was no teacher attrition during the course of the project—two teachers had unexpected medical leaves for approximately three weeks each, but, in both cases, substitutes continued to implement the curriculum.


Pupil Sample and Characteristics. The initial sample of children for whom pretest data were available included 813 pupils in two school districts. The demographics of this area of northern Utah indicate that per capita income is $7,923 ($200 lower than the state figure), 95% of the population is Caucasian, and 79.7% report membership in the Mormon church (the state figure is 69.2%).


Teachers reported the ethnic status characteristics of children in their classrooms. In accord with overall population data for this area, 94.5% of the pupils were Caucasian. Minority group membership was as follows: Hispanic—1.0%; Black— 0.2%; Asian/Islander—1.2%; Native American—1.0%; other and mixed designations—1.7%. Boys comprised 53.5% of the sample and girls, 46.5%.


All children were informed that they were not required to complete the assessment instruments. Six experimental group and four control group children asked to be excused from testing. In addition, three children were excluded because they did not speak English and 25 (11 experimental and 14 control) were excluded because of repeated absences during the pretesting phase of the project.


At the time of post-testing, 6 percent of the pretested sample was lost because children had moved to other classrooms or schools or because they were repeatedly absent during the post-testing phase of the study. Sample loss was 20 children at the first and second grades (5%) and 28 children at the fourth and fifth grades (6.5%). Of the children lost, 54% were in the experimental group and 46% were in the control group; therefore attrition appeared unrelated to group membership. The number of children in the final post-tested sample, listed by grade for Experimental and Control conditions, respectively, was: First—91, 91; Second—95, 88; Fourth—91,104; Fifth—101, 104.


Intervention and Control Conditions


The intervention implemented was based on the NAHEE curriculum guides. The authors (Savesky and Malcarne 1981) describe the purposes of the guides as follows: "(1) assist children in developing compassion, a sense of justice, and a respect for all living creatures; (2) provide the knowledge and understanding necessary for children to behave according to these principles; and (3) foster a sense of responsibility on the part of children to affirm and act upon their personal beliefs" (1981, p. iii). To accomplish these goals, NAHEE developed four curriculum blended guides, three of which are appropriate for the grade levels that were studied. The activities and lessons included in the guides were designed to be used as part of regular instruction in language arts, social studies, math, health, and science. The advantages of this approach were, first, its appeal to teachers and administrators because the materials may be used as part of regular instruction and do not have to be added as additional curriculum areas and second, that the materials were to be used on a more extensive basis than would be the case with a single visit by a humane educator.


The guides covered four general areas with 35 concepts related to human-animal relationships, pets or companion animals, wild animals, and farm animals. The guides offer a variety of teaching techniques including definition of terms, role playing, expressing feelings, classification skills, value clarification, drama, storytelling, decision making, recording data, and creative writing. In addition to the activities suggested for teacher use, the guides list resources available from local animal shelters and public libraries that can be used to facilitate instruction. The guides were developed with careful attention to children's cognitive understanding at different grade levels and were extensively field tested.


Teachers in the E group were asked to devote a minimum of 40 hours of classroom instruction based on the guides during the school year. They were instructed to focus on concepts related to human-animal relations and companion animals and as time permitted to wild and farm animals.


These teachers attended a workshop to familiarize them with the use of program materials, to explain the need for avoiding communication with C group teachers until the project was completed, and to distribute forms on which teachers noted which concepts they taught and their evaluation of the guide's usefulness. Teachers were required to complete these forms each day they covered guide-related concepts in class and submit them monthly to a research assistant who collected them as an intervention-monitoring device.


Teachers randomly assigned to the C group were asked to avoid implementing any special humane education program during the course of the study. C group teachers were provided curriculum guides for future use after post-testing was completed in the spring. C group teachers were also asked to avoid discussing this project with E group teachers until after the project was completed.


Instrumentation and Dependent Measures


Four instruments were used in this study, the first being a questionnaire assessing children's experience with companion animals and other animal-related contexts (e.g., visits to zoos, farms). Information from this questionnaire, given to all E and C group pupils at the start of the study, was used in subsidiary analyses (e.g., did the intervention differentially affect children who had or did not have pets?). The three remaining instruments were the core assessment measures.


Primary Attitude Scale (PAS). This instrument was developed during earlier evaluation studies (Borg et al. 1982; Ascione, Latham, and Worthen 1985) and has undergone systematic refinements yielding its current form (Ascione 1988a). The PAS is designed to be used with kindergarten, first, and second grade children and contains 23 questions related to the care and treatment of animals (e.g., "Should you spank a cat to teach it to mind you?" "Do you think it's fun to break up a spider's web?") A YES/NO response format is used with the more humane response assigned 2 points and the less humane response 1 point. Thus, scores range from 23 to 46. Coefficient alpha, a measure of the test's internal consistency, was .63.


Intermediate Attitude Scale (IAS). Developed simultaneously with the PAS, the IAS (Ascione 1988b) was designed for use with third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade pupils. It contains 36 declarative statements with which a child can strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree (e.g., "If I had a dog, l would want it to run free around the neighborhood." "It's wrong to have animals fight just so people can be entertained."). For each item, the most humane choice is assigned 4 points and the least humane 1 point; thus, scores range from 36 to 144. Coefficient alpha for the IAS was .69.


These instruments each required approximately 30 to 60 minutes to administer and were used as pre- and post-tests. Their validity as measures of intervention effectiveness has been demonstrated (Ascione, Latham, and Worthen 1985) and the IAS's validity in differentiating individuals' quality and quantity of companion animal experience was shown in Malcarne's (1986) research with adolescents.


Empathy Index (Bryant 1982, 1987a, 1987b). This 22-item measure was designed to assess human empathic tendencies in children and has been used in other companion animal studies with children (Bryant 1985; Malcarne 1986). Coefficient alphas were reported to range from .54 to .79, and both convergent and discriminant validity have been demonstrated (Bryant 1982). Total scores for fourth and fifth graders (Bryant Intermediate or B-I), using a Likert four-response format, range from 22 to 88. A YES/NO format was selected as more appropriate at the first and second grades (Bryant Primary or B-P). The range of scores on the B-P is from 22 to 44. Higher scores reflect greater empathy. This instrument was also used as a pre- and post-test measure and allowed assessment of the general relation between empathy and humane attitudes and any generalization of intervention program effects from animal-related attitudes to human-related empathy. Higher scores reflect greater empathy.


The PAS, IAS, and B-I were group-administered and the B-P individually administered in all classrooms prior to the curriculum implementation in the fall (pretesting) and again in the spring after teachers reported completing the 40 cumulative hours of instruction (post-testing). Tests were administered by assistants (who defined words on the tests that children said they didn't understand) naive as to the group membership (E or C) of the teachers. As often as possible, pupils absent on testing days were tested as soon as they returned to class.





Curriculum Implementation


Experimental group teacher reports of time spent using the curriculum were tabulated each month. Control group teachers were asked to estimate the amount of time, in hours, that they devoted to instruction related to humane education over the course of the school year.


The mean number of hours devoted to the curriculum reported by Experimental group teachers, by grade level, was First Grade—38.52, Second Grade—38.54, Fourth Grade—38.45, Fifth Grade—39.75. Reported time allocation for individual teachers ranged from 32.4 hours to 45.7 hours.


Control group teachers' reports of hours spent on humane education content, by grade level, were First Grade— 11.25, Second Grade—7.0, Fourth Grade—14.00, Fifth Grade—20.5. The range for individual teachers was from 0 hours to 40 hours with an overall mean of 13.19 hours (in contrast to the Experimental group's overall mean of 38.82 hours).2


Pupil Questionnaire Responses


Children's responses to six questions regarding their experiences with companion animals, farms and zoos, and animal shelters were analyzed using chi square to determine if responses were related to Experimental or Control group membership. These analyses were performed on the pretested sample of children and yielded no statistically significant differences (responses were independent of group membership).


Children's responses to the items on the questionnaire yielded the following percentages: "Do you have a pet at home?" Yes—76.5%; "What kind of pet do you have?" NONE—23.4%, DOG ONLY— 15.4%, DOG plus other—5.0%, CAT ONLY—15.0%, CAT plus other—20.8%, Other kinds of pets/combinations— 20.4%; "Have you ever visited a zoo?" YES—97.8%; "Have you ever lived on a farm?" YES—88.2%; "Have you ever visited a farm?" YES—24.6%; "Have you ever visited an animal shelter?" YES—43.1%. (It should be noted that the only animal shelters in Cache County are associated with local veterinarians’ offices.)


Pre- and post-test reports of having a home pet were entered as covariates in the analyses of covariance on the main dependent variables (PAS, IAS, B-P, and B-I) but in no case were the results significant. It should be noted that change in home pet reports from pre- to post-testing occurred for a small minority of children (less than 15%).


Analysis of Dependent Measures


The general statistical approach was to perform analysis of covariance in which pretest scores on the dependent measure were considered in evaluating post-test differences. The analyses of covariance were performed separately for the attitude and empathy dependent measures. The more conservative approach of treating the classroom, instead of individual pupils, as the unit of analysis was used.


For each analysis, the main independent variables were Treatment (Experimental [E] or Control [C]), Grade (First [G1] or Second [G2], Fourth [G4] or Fifth [G5]), and Gender [Boy or Girl]. In descriptions of the results, adjusted means (M) and standard deviations of the mean (SD) are reported.


Primary Attitude Scale


The mean post-test score for children in the E group (41.58, SD = .17) did not differ significantly from the mean for C group children (41.09, SD = .17). There was no significant effect for Grade (G1 M = 41.20, SD = .18; G2 M = 41.46, SD = .18) or for gender (girls M = 41.43,SD = .21; boys M = 41.23, SD = .20). There were no significant interaction effects (e.g., Treatment x Grade).


A more qualitative analysis is shown in Figure 1 in which are plotted mean change scores (classroom post-test mean minus pretest mean) for each classroom and grade level. The positive numbers reflect improvements in attitude scores from pretesting to post-testing. The mean change score for each G1 E classroom (range of changes: 2.75 to 3.05) exceeded every G1 C classroom mean (range of changes: .87 to 1.81). No differences between the E and C groups were evident for the second grade—this will be addressed in a later discussion of potential ceiling effects.


Bryant Primary Empathy Measure


The mean post-test score for children in the E group (36.83, SD = .31) did not differ significantly from the mean for C group children (36.50, SD = .31). The main effect for Grade was not significant (G1 M = 36.34, SD =.31; G2 M = 36.99, SD =.32). There was a significant main effect for Gender [F(1,12)= 14.82, p <.01] with the mean for girls (37.31, SD = .18) greater than the mean for boys (36.01, SD = .17). There were no significant interaction effects. Qualitative analysis of E-C change scores yielded no consistent classroom differences.


Intermediate Attitude Scale


Although there were no main effects for Treatment, Grade, or Gender, there was a significant Treatment x Grade interaction [F(1,12) = 5.63, p < .05]. Subsequent analysis indicated that this interaction was accounted for by a significant E-C difference for G4 but not for G5. The mean for E group fourth graders (112.23, SD = 1.60) was greater than the mean for C group fourth graders (103.65, SD = 1.56). Although not a significant difference, the fifth graders' E group mean (108.26, SD = 1.49) was greater than the C group mean (106.16, SD = 1.49).


Figure 2 shows mean change scores on the IAS for each classroom and grade level. Negative change scores reflect a decrease in attitude scores from pre- to post-testing. Fourth grade E group mean change scores were greater than any of the mean changes for C group classrooms (E group range of changes: 6.52 to 12.14; C group range of changes: - 3.96 to 5.05). E-C group differences also favored the E group for fifth graders but were not as consistent as the fourth grade data.


Bryant Intermediate Empathy Measure


Both the Treatment and Gender main effects were significant in the analysis of this measure. The mean empathy score for children in the E group (60.25, SD = .80) was greater than the mean for C group children (58.21, SD = .78) regardless of grade level [F(1,12) = 4.98, p < .05] (neither the Treatment x Grade nor other interaction effects were significant). Girls' mean empathy score (M = 61.27, SD = .45) was greater than boys' (M = 57.19; SD = .45), [F(1,12) = 13.55, p < .01].


Animal-Related Attitudes and Human-Related Empathy


One of the issues to be addressed by this study was the relationship between the measures assessing humane attitudes toward animals (PAS and IAS) and those assessing human-related empathy (B-P and B-I). To this end, Pearson correlations were computed, for the entire final sample, between attitude and empathy measures. These correlations were computed on pretest data, prior to the implementation of the humane education curriculum; thus, E-C comparisons were not made.


For the younger children, there was a significant positive correlation between total scores on the PAS and the B-P (r= .31, p < .001). For the older children, the IAS/B-I correlation was also positive and statistically significant (r = .34, p < .001). These correlations provide evidence for a clear yet nonredundant relation between children's attitudes about the treatment of companion and noncompanion animals and their human directed empathy, as measured by the B-P and B-I.




Humane Education Treatment Effects


The humane education program enhanced the animal-related attitudes of children differentially, depending on grade level. For younger children (first and second grade), there was no significant difference between E and C group attitude means; however, qualitative analysis suggested that greater enhancement of attitudes occurred for first grade E group children than for C group children at that grade level. In contrast, no difference between E and C groups was evident for second graders. No differences were present on the generalization measure of empathy. For older children (fourth and fifth graders), there was a significant difference between E and C group attitude means qualified by grade level—there was greater enhancement of humane attitudes for E group than for C group fourth graders but no significant difference for fifth graders. On the generalization measure of empathy, post-test means for the E group were significantly greater than means for the C group regardless of grade level.


In a number of respects, this pattern of findings closely parallels the results of an earlier study by Ascione, Latham, and Worthen (1985). As noted in the literature review, in the earlier research, significant E-C group differences were found for kindergarten and first grade children on the attitude scale (PAS) but not for second grade children. Although the current study did not include kindergarten children, comparisons were made between the current and 1985 study, both of which included first and second graders. In examining the pattern of results, it was clear that in every case, regardless of E or C group, means from the current study were displaced upward from means for the 1985 study. For example, C group first graders in the 1985 study had a mean PAS score of 37.8 and in the current study the mean for the comparable group was 40.1. Similar upward displacements were present for the other relevant comparisons.


Although these differences between the 1985 and current PAS levels could be due, in part, to differences between the samples (the 1985 study included children from larger urban areas whereas the current study's children were from predominantly rural and suburban areas, and the 1985 study had a higher proportion of minority children [54.1 %] than the current study [5%]), there is also the potential that children in the current sample were more aware and better educated in areas related to humane and environmental concerns than the children studied nearly six years earlier. If this is the case, then scores on the PAS may be approaching a ceiling, especially for second graders, which would make detecting E-C differences more difficult. As will be noted, ceiling effects were not present with the IAS.


A related comparison was made by examining the pattern of IAS means for fourth and fifth graders from the 1985 and current study. Again, all of the means from the current study were displaced upward from the 1985 means. Although in the current study the fifth grade E-C group difference was not significant, the difference was in the expected direction and both means were greater than the E and C means from the 1985 study. A ceiling effect for the IAS is unlikely because the maximum score is 144 (in contrast, the maximum score on the PAS is 46).


One factor that may have reduced the likelihood of finding a fifth grade E-C difference in the current study was the unexpectedly high time allocation Control group fifth grade teachers reported for instruction related to humane education (a mean of 20.5 hours or greater than half the mean reported by Experimental group teachers). This C group clearly exceeded the author's expectations regarding the amount of instruction related to humane education one might expect to find in a typical fifth grade classroom. Restricting the content of C group teachers' instruction would have been unacceptable. It is fortunate that reports of instructional content were obtained from C teachers because the reported time allocations may have been related to less substantial E-C group differences.


Generalization of Effects to Human-Related Empathy


Because treatment effects on the PAS were not statistically significant, generalization to the B-P measure of empathy was not to be expected and was not obtained. However, there was a clear generalization effect from animal-related attitudes (IAS) to human-related empathy (B-I) for fourth grade children in the E group. This result lends support to the idea that children's compassion toward animals is related to their empathy toward humans (Poresky 1990). The lack of evidence for this relation at the first and second grade may reflect a similar ceiling effect with the B-P (scores for both the E and C groups approached the maximum score of 44) and at the fifth grade it may reflect contamination by C group teachers' more than typical instruction related to humane education.


General Relations between Animal-Related Attitudes and Human-Related Empathy


The significant positive correlations, moderate in size, that were found between the attitude and empathy measures are encouraging. The Bryant measure is considered to be tapping a trait-like aspect of empathy3 (as distinct from measures that assess more context/situation specific empathy). That children's attitudes about the care and treatment of animals have significant relations with human-directed empathy is important for our understanding of the role of companion animals in the lives of children. In addition, these positive relations serve to tie research on companion animals with the literature on the role of empathy in children's general moral development (e.g., Dunlap 1989; Poresky 1990).


Follow-Up Research Issues


One important question that must be asked of humane education research is the duration of the changes that occur as a result of educational interventions. This issue has both research and practical significance because children may encounter humane education sporadically rather than consistently across their school years. The great variation in instruction related to humane education reported by control group teachers in this study attests to this. If program-enhanced attitudes are maintained across at least a school year, more cost-effective programs could be developed (e.g., implementing concerted humane education at every other grade level) especially in areas where resources are limited.


A second issue is the relation between having a pet and children's attitudes toward animals. Although pet ownership, per se, was not found to be a significant factor in this study, future research should examine the quality of the relation between child and pet (see examples of this approach with children by Poresky [1990], Poresky and Hendrix [1990], and Poresky et al. [1987]; and with the elderly by Siegel [1990]).


Finally, future research should directly address the relationship between children's humane attitudes and their actual treatment of companion and noncompanion animals. One area of focus should be on children who may be at risk for maltreating animals. Much of the information available on this issue is anecdotal or based primarily on retrospective reports by adults. The author is currently exploring the use of the attitude scales incorporated in this project with children who have engaged in animal maltreatment, an issue of both historical (Jersild 1954) and current interest (National Advisory Mental Health Council 1990, section on Conduct Disorder). This research would focus on the potential screening use of these scales and their value as pre-post measures of intervention effectiveness.


It is hoped that continued research in these areas will add to our knowledge about children's kindness and caring toward animals.




Copies of the attitude scales are available from the author.


There was great variability in the amount and type of instruction related to humane education reported by Control group teachers. Some mentioned visits to a local community zoo as a field trip, units on endangered species, material in a basal reader on caring for pets, a visit by the local Humane Society, science units on the life cycle of animals, and units on biological classifications of animals. Others noted animal related content in children's books used in the classroom reading program. The one teacher who reported spending 40 hours on humane education materials described discussions of the ecosystem, Audubon materials, and in-class dissection of owl droppings. Students in another class prepared for and attended the Teton Science School.

It should also be noted that higher mean empathy scores for older girls supports Eisenberg and Lennon's (1983) observation of gender differences on self-report measures of empathy.





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Department of Psychology, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-2810.


*Based on a paper presented as part of a symposium, Pets and Children's Socioemotional Development: Relations to Cognitive Role-taking, Attachment, Adjustment, and Empathy, at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, Washington, April 18, 1991. Research in this paper was supported, in part, by a grant from the Delta Society funded by the Pet Food Institute and by funds from the National Association for Humane and Environmental Education. I especially thank the teachers and children who participated for so patiently accepting the numerous intrusions into their classrooms. I am grateful for the assistance provided by Myra Lynch, Steve Zsiray, Mary Bissonette, Roger Graves, Debbie Ascione, Steve Murdock, Chad Davis, Shayne Bland, Don Sisson, and Karen Ranson.

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