Young, A., Khalil, K. A., & Wharton, J. (2018). Empathy for Animals: A Review of the Existing Literature. Curator: The Museum Journal.
Empathy is often studied as it relates to humans. However, there is a increasing interest in its relationship, development and impact with non‐human animals. This interest is often driven by a curiosity in empathy’s role as an internal motivator for pro‐environmental behavior change. As with many internal affective responses, the link is not always directly clear but growing evidence suggests that empathy towards others can influence the likelihood of pro‐environmental behaviors as they relate to individual animals and potentially their larger communities or species. A hot zone for empathy development; zoos, aquariums, museums, sanctuaries, shelters, nature centers, and other informal environmental education organizations invested in animal conservation are challenged to understand, mitigate or capitalize on the empathy development already occurring in their institutions. These organizations provide opportunities for people to develop close relationships with individual animals, a critical step in the development of empathy. Their ability to facilitate hundreds of up‐close interactions between humans and animals daily establishes these organizations as important venues for the exploration of empathy towards animals and its potential impact on promoting pro‐environmental behavior. In this paper, we review some of the existing literature on empathy in relation to and with non‐human animals, offer a definition as it applies to all species, and discuss key components of empathy development including barriers and promoters.