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Nonhuman Animal Cruelty, Bullying and Behavioral Difficulties Among Women

Sanders C and Henry B. (2015). Nonhuman Animal Cruelty, Bullying and Behavioral Difficulties Among Women. Society & Animals, (23): 68-80.

Research question: Is there a relationship between bullying, animal abuse, and behavioral difficulties among women?  Does women’s involvement in animal cruelty predict that they will be violent toward humans?  The authors proposed two hypotheses to answer these questions:

H1:  Women who have been animal abusers would be more likely to report having been bullies and victims of bullies than non-animal abusers.

H2:  Animal abuse, bullying, and being the victim of a bully would predict behavioral difficulties in women.

Subjects:  Subjects were 500 female 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 60 years of age, with an average age of 22.84 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 a 21-item 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.  Finally, they completed the 25-item standardized Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire.  All assessments took place during a 1-hour session in groups of 15-35 subjects at a time.  Statistical analyses were performed which included t-tests, Pearson correlation, and linear regression models.  The tests were used to assess conduct problems, emotional difficulties, hyperactivity, peer difficulties and prosocial behavior.

Findings: The results support the theory that there is an association between aggression toward animals and aggression toward humans.  Key findings of this study are:

  • Animal abusers reported significantly higher levels of bullying and victimization than non-abusers, indicating that a link exists between animal abuse and being a bully and/or victim. The present study showed that this is true for females as well as males, and supported the researchers’ first hypothesis.
  • Those who reported both abusing animals and being a bully/victim also reported more behavioral challenges, disturbances, and emotional difficulties than their counterparts. This supported the researchers’ second hypothesis.
  • High scores for bullying and animal abuse correlated with lower levels of prosocial behavior, while high scores for victimization and animal abuse indicated higher levels of peer difficulties and hyperactivity.
  • Those who reported high levels of victimization were found to be the most troubled overall.

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, self-reporting can add bias to the data as the questions were invasive and participants may not have felt entirely comfortable answering them.  Finally, this study classified subjects as either being animal abusers or not with no middle ground.  Further research might want to broaden these classifications by also considering the degree and frequency of the abuse, as well as age of onset.

Summary by Traci Raley, MS

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