Education about animal welfare could help the U.S. and other countries address problems of animal exploitation and abuse, according to researchers at Yale University.
The research team, led by Nicholas Corbet, assistant professor of sociology, and Katherine McAlister, assistant research professor of history and anthropology, conducted a survey of 5,000 U.K. high school students to determine how the education system has changed about the treatment of animals over the past decades.
“When you’re talking about the topic of animal cruelty, you’re not always dealing with the facts,” Corbet said.
“There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there.”
While the students in their survey were more likely to say that they had been taught about animal rights, they also believed that animals were sentient, said Corbet.
“They also believed animals were the victims of abuse,” she said.
“We asked students if they believed that it was okay for animals to be killed,” she added.
“It was really about the context, not the content.
There was a lot about animals being exploited in the context of agriculture, that were being used for food.”
Students were asked whether they believed animals to have feelings, thoughts, or desires, and whether they would use animals for food, clothing, and other goods, like shoes or toys.
The results showed that students’ beliefs about animal ethics varied by age, with the most liberal students more likely than those with conservative values to believe animals are sentient.
“We found that this was a generalization,” Corbat said.
For example, students who were exposed to more information about animal agriculture, such as videos, books, and movies, were more inclined to believe that animals are conscious and have feelings.
But they were also more likely (62 percent) to believe humans are the victims, which was a change from the previous research that found that belief in animal rights was a more common belief among middle and upper-class students.
Corbet and McAlisters findings could help educate students about the cruelty of animal agriculture in the U, and how their actions can help improve the world.
“There’s a need for people to understand and talk about the issue of animal welfare in the world,” McAlison said.
But students were also asked to indicate how their schools and institutions could help.
“People were asked how their school or institution could help animal welfare,” Corbett said.
One-third of students answered by saying they would “be more likely” to provide education about animal protection.
The researchers also found that students with more liberal values were more interested in helping animals.
Corbett said he hopes that the study will help educators in the classroom to better understand how students can change their views on the issue.
“Our results show that there are lots of myths, and students can have an impact on their education by not being afraid to ask these questions,” he said.