Childhood pet ownership, attachment to pets, and subsequent meat avoidance. The mediating role of empathy toward animals

Hank Rothgerber, Frances Mican
Appetite 2014, 79: 11-7
Researchers studying childhood pet ownership outcomes do not typically focus on measures of adult diet, and those studying the psychology of meat consumption do not normally consider early experiences with companion animals. The present research sought to integrate these two areas by examining relationships between childhood pet ownership, pet attachment, empathy toward animals, belief in human-animal similarity, meat avoidance, and justifications for eating meat. Results from 273 individuals responding to a survey on an internet platform revealed that participants with greater childhood attachment to a pet reported greater meat avoidance as adults, an effect that disappeared when controlling for animal empathy. Greater childhood pet attachment was also related to the use of indirect, apologetic justifications for meat consumption, and this effect too, was mediated by empathy toward animals. Child pet ownership itself predicted views toward animals but not dietary behavior or meat-eating justifications. The authors propose a sequence of events by which greater childhood pet attachment leads to increased meat avoidance, focusing on the central role played by empathy toward animals.

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