Children value animals more than adults do, say researchers seeking to understand ‘the nature of speciesism’

Author: Maria Chiorando

Read Time:   |  24th June 2023

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Speciesism is defined by vegan charity PETA as 'the human-held belief that all other animal species are inferior'


Children were found to value animal life more than adults in a recent study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

The study, titled Children Value Animals More than Adults do — a Conceptual Replication and Extension, was carried out in an effort to better understand speciesism, which is defined by vegan charity PETA as the ‘the human-held belief that all other animal species are inferior’.

Researchers said ‘understanding the nature of speciesism in children and adults is important for several reasons’, noting that research shows adults are deeply speciesist.

They wrote: “But what is the nature of speciesism? Is it something people are born with or acquire later? Is speciesism a strong and universal attitude for all people? Understanding children’s level of speciesism could shed light on these questions.”


This study followed earlier research showing that ‘American children have a weaker tendency than American adults to value humans more than animals’. It sought to replicate these findings in Polish children, with participants aged from six to nine.

They were presented with a classic switch trolley dilemma, in which they were shown photos of lego figurines and a train on a forked track. Whichever direction the trolley travels in, it will hit someone – whether it is a human individual or group, or animals – either dogs or chimpanzees.

Participants were asked which side of the fork the trolley should travel down (or whether they couldn’t decide), and given a number of different outcomes, for example, human .v. dog, human .v. chimpanzee, and dog .v. chimpanzee among others.

The children were also given a ‘benefitting task’, in which they were asked to distribute snacks to either humans, dogs, or chimpanzees.

Adult participants were given the same dilemmas, but answered questions in an online format using written instructions, rather than being given verbal instructions and being shown photos.

The study found that children tend to prioritise animals over humans when distributing snacks. Photo © Елена Якимова via Adobe Stock

The study found that children tend to prioritise animals over humans when distributing snacks. Photo © Елена Якимова via Adobe Stock

Speciesism in adults and children

The researchers hypothesised that children would prioritise humans over animals (dogs and chimpanzees).

Furthermore, they poisited that children would prioritise humans over chimpanzees less than they prioritise humans over dogs, and that children would prioritise humans over animals to a lesser extent than adults.

They found that ‘children in both countries [the US and Poland] had a much weaker tendency to prioritise humans over animals than adults did’. In other words, both American and Polish children value the lives of animals more than adults, and could therefore said to be less speciesist.

When it came to how they prioritised chimpanzees and dogs, they wrote: “In contrast to our predictions, both children and adults prioritised humans over chimpanzees more than humans over dogs.”

Another finding they were surprised by what that ‘adults in Poland prioritised humans over animals less than adults in the United States did’, suggesting that these results ‘suggest a possible role of culture in forming our views of animals’, and that they ‘consider this an important area for future investigation’.

They concluded that while their evidence adds support to the existing literature showing that children value animals differently than adults, and provides ‘the first evidence of cross-cultural differences in speciesism’, further research is needed to ‘fully understand how people perceive ascribing moral worth to humans and animals’.

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Featured photo © Halfpoint via Adobe Stock

Written by

Maria Chiorando

Maria is an editor and journalist. Her work has been published by the Huffington Post, the Guardian, TechnoBuffalo, Plant Based News, and Kent on Sunday among other national and regional titles.

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