Animal sentience: the influence of beliefs about animal mind on positive and negative child-animal interactions

Roxanne Hawkins, Joanne Williams

Research output: Contribution to conferencePresentation


Children and animals can have a great impact on each other’s lives, yet we are only just beginning to understand the underpinnings of these relationships. Beliefs about animal minds or believing that nonhuman animals are sentient, may have a great influence on these relationships. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between children’s beliefs about animal minds (Child-BAM) and measures relating to positive and negative interactions with animals. A questionnaire-based survey, comprising of a variety of measures relating to child-animal relationships was administered to primary school children during class time by school teachers. A total of 1,217 (51% boys, 49% girls) children aged 6-13 years from 24 schools across Scotland participated. Results from linear regression showed that children’s beliefs about animal mind was positively related to attachment to pets (F(1,1081)=38, p<.001), compassion toward animals (F(1,1047)=17, p<.001), reported humane behaviour (F(1,1069)=31, p<.001), caring behaviour (F(1,1068)=15.7, p<.001), emotional attachment to animals (F(1,1068)=8.7, p<.005) and positive attitudes towards animals (F(1,970)=64, p<.001). A negative relationship was found between children’s beliefs about animal minds and attitudes towards intentional cruelty (F(1,1080)=12, p<.005), unintentional cruelty (F(1,1080)=7, p<.05) and animal neglect (F(1,1080)=6.7, p<.05). Results from one-way ANOVA and t-tests showed that pet ownership, including number of pets (F(3,1120)=3.59, p=0.013) and whether children had a pet of their own (t(1111)=-2.41, p=0.016) influenced children’s beliefs about animal mind, as did age (t(1084)=4.39, p< 0.001) but not gender (t(1124)=0.93, p=0.36). Children rated dogs as the most sentient non-human animal. Teaching children about the complex cognitive and emotional lives of non-human animals may have great potential for promoting positive interactions and for preventing negative interactions with animals, including animal cruelty. Research into this relatively new area of scientific study of child and animal relationships is encouraged to continue and progress.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes
EventInternational Society for Anthrozoology Annual Conference 2016: Exploring Human-Animal Interactions: A Multidisciplinary Approach from Behavioral and Social Sciences - Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 7 Jul 201610 Jul 2016 (List of ISAZ conferences.)


ConferenceInternational Society for Anthrozoology Annual Conference 2016
Abbreviated titleISAZ 2016
Internet address


  • Psychology
  • Animal Minds
  • Sentience
  • Children
  • Human-animal interactions


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