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Ethics and morality

A different kind of speciesism

A response to our January edition.

07 January 2021

The discussion of veganism in the January edition touches on an important topical social phenomenon and attests to the growing visibility of this emerging field of psychological research. Further developments would benefit greatly from recognising specific types of speciesism.

For example, while the generic term speciesism gains popularity (as seen within Dhont and Stoeber's article 'The vegan resistance') it often obstructs the fact that there are actually two distinct types of speciesism: anthropocentric and pet speciesism. Anthropocentric speciesism refers to our prejudice against animals and in favour of humans, whilst pet speciesism refers to our prejudice against non-pet animals (e.g. pigs) and in favour of pet animals (e.g. dogs). This is an important distinction with methodological, theoretical and practical implications. Whilst research is currently limited, these two types of speciesism may even sometimes be at odds with each other. For instance, initial research (e.g .from Lucius Caviola and Valerio Capraro, indicates that emotional thinking increases pet speciesism, but decreases anthropocentric speciesism. Conversely, deliberative thinking increases anthropocentric speciesism but decreases pet speciesism.

Current literature has overwhelmingly focused on anthropocentric speciesism and neglected pet speciesism. Further, many articles which mention 'speciesism' are actually referring to anthropocentric speciesism. This issue also pertains to measurement. For example, Caviola's 'Speciesism Scale' includes statements which compare animals to humans, with no measurement of perceptions of different species of animals. As such, this is a scale of Anthropocentric Speciesism. Importantly, our own research suggests humans do not view animals as a unitary group, when we consider them on dimensions such as warmth (having positive intentions) and competence (being able to enact these intentions).

Future research in this exciting new field of psychology needs to go beyond initial comparisons between 'humans' vs 'animals' and explore the rich diversity in our perceptions of different animal species. This research will be especially beneficial in the sustainable consumption agenda, which requires a dramatic decrease in beef and pork consumption. Psychologists have an opportunity to impact such trends, but first we need to distinguish and understand the two (or more) types of speciesism.

Sarah Gradidge
Dr Magdalena Zawisza
ARU Cambridge