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Review of the Evidence for Associations Between Empathy, Violence, and Animal Cruelty

NCJ Number
Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal Volume: 14 Issue: 1 Dated: January/February 2009 Pages: 1-4
Samara McPhedran
Date Published
January 2009
4 pages
This study provided an overview of empathy and its relationship to violence with particular emphasis to attitudes towards animals.
Results suggest that there is insufficient evidence to support the view that empathy levels are the sole source of aggressive behavior and/or animal cruelty. Empathy appears to be just one factor among a host of contributors towards generalized violent and antisocial behavior patterns. Childhood exposure to violence, with or without the presence of animal cruelty, coupled with a lack of prosocial parental behavior, may contribute to the development of a spectrum of violent behaviors which may or may not include animal cruelty. Although an impaired capacity for empathy may be part of this process, other antisocial personality factors such as manipulativeness and egocentricity appear to play an important role in sustaining violent behavior. It cannot be assumed that empathy towards animals will transfer to empathy towards humans or vice versa. The suggestion that human-directed and animal-directed empathy represents different personality dimensions and has different sources of variation merits further investigation. Although it has been assumed that humane education interventions for children are beneficial, there have been few systematic efforts to quantify the efficacy or otherwise of such efforts. References