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Bullying and Animal Abuse: Is There a Connection?

Henry B. and Sanders C. (2005). Bullying and Animal Abuse: Is There a Connection? Society & Animals, (15): 107-126.

Research question: Is there a relationship between bullying, being victimized by a bully, and animal abuse? The authors proposed three hypotheses to answer this question:

H1:  Males who abused animals would have a higher likelihood of engaging in school bullying than those who did not abuse animals.

H2:  Those who engaged in animal abuse more frequently were more likely to have been involved in bullying and/or have been the victim of a bully.

H3:  Those who have been both bullies and victims were more likely to have been involved in multiple episodes of animal abuse than their peers.

Subjects:  Subjects were 185 male college students who were enrolled in Introductory Psychology and were required to participate in research for class credit.  They ranged in age from 18 to 48 years, with an average age of 22.2 years.

Methodology: Subjects completed a self-report survey which first asked about pet ownership and attachment to pets, and then asked about engaging in animal abuse.  The questions on animal abuse were yes/no questions which asked about intentional killing, hurting, or torturing animals, as well as threatening to do so in order to intimidate or control someone.  Subjects who answered yes to any of these were also asked about the type of animal they abused, the age that they first engaged in the abuse, and the frequency in which they engaged in the abuse.  Next, subjects completed the Attitudes Toward the Treatment of Animals Survey (ATTAS), a 23-item assessment to measure their attitudes toward the treatment of animals.  Finally, subjects completed a bully/victim questionnaire which asked questions about whether or not the subjects were victims and/or perpetrators of either verbal and/or physical bullying, as well as the frequency of these occurrences.  All assessments took place during a 2-hour session in groups of 15-30 subjects at a time.  The researchers performed chi-squared tests of independence to look at the relationship between bullying and acts of animal abuse, and an ANOVA was used to determine the relationship between bullying, animal abuse, and attitudes using the ATTAS.  Logistic regression examined the ATTAS and bullying as predictors of frequent animal abuse.

Results: The findings of this study showed that those subjects who engaged in only one episode of animal abuse did not differ from non-abusers in regards to their history with bullying.  However, those who were more frequent animal abusers were more likely to report numbers that were above the median with regards to either being a victim or a perpetrator of bullying.  Additionally, those who reported above median levels of having been both a victim and perpetrator of bullying also reported the most numerous acts of animal abuse, and had the lowest scores on the ATTAS, indicating a higher level of tolerance for animal cruelty.  These results confirm the findings of a previous study conducted in Italy.

A number of theories have been proposed to interpret the relationship between bullying and animal abuse.   One is the “graduation hypothesis” which suggests that participating in animal abuse may desensitize the abuser and allow for an escalation into violence toward humans.   Another theory is the “generalized deviance hypothesis” which suggests that behaviors like bullying and animal abuse may indicate a tendency toward antisocial conduct and delinquency.  A third theory is the “displaced aggression hypothesis” which suggests that children who are victimized themselves may in turn feel the need to victimize others who are weaker as a defense mechanism.  Further research into these areas is warranted.

Limitations: The surveys were retrospective and relied on the subjects’ memory in answering the questions; therefore, the responses they provided may not be entirely accurate.   Additionally, the ATTAS assessed the subjects’ current attitudes toward animals, so it is unclear whether these attitudes came before or after the animal abuse and bullying events.  Only men were included in this study, so it is unclear what relationship exists between women who abuse animals and involvement in bullying.  Finally, although these results indicate a relationship between animal abuse and bullying, the mechanism that relates the two is still unclear.

Summary by Traci Raley, MS

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