Preventing cruelty and unsafe child-pet interactions with an educational iPad intervention

Roxanne Hawkins, Joanne Williams

Research output: Contribution to conferencePresentation


Pets have an impact on children’s social, emotional and cognitive development (theory of mind and understanding of biology), and have a role in child and adolescent mental health, well-being and quality of life. However, children lack knowledge about animal welfare needs and about appropriate and safe behaviour towards pet animals. The aim of this study was to design, develop, and conduct an evaluation of a novel educational iPad intervention for children to teach them about fundamental aspects of animal welfare including animal emotions, sentience and welfare needs.

The study is a pre-test, intervention, post-test design, including an intervention and control group. Participants included 92 test and 65 control (46% boys, 54% girls) primary-school children aged 7-11 from schools in Scotland, UK. Children were pre-tested using a short questionnaire administered in the class that included measures of compassion, attitudes to cruelty, sentience, welfare knowledge and knowledge about appropriate behaviour towards pets. Children in the intervention group then played the ‘Pet Welfare’ iPad game, which was designed to teach children about animal sentience, the five animal welfare needs, and about appropriate and safe behaviours towards pets. Children then completed the post-test questionnaire.

There were significant effects of the game on: compassion towards animals (F(1,91)=5.4, p=.022, n2=.06), beliefs about animal minds (F(1,88)=61.17, p=.000, n2=.41), knowledge about appropriate behaviour towards pets (F(1,87)=106.7, p=.000, n2=.55), safe behaviour towards pets (F(1,88)=34.38, p=.000, n2=.28), attitudes towards cruelty to pets (F(1,87)=31.14, p=.000, n2=.26), and knowledge about cat welfare needs (but not dog or rabbit needs) (F(1,87)=9.53, p=.003, n2=.1).

This study demonstrates the positive impact of interactive digital educational interventions that enhance knowledge of animal welfare and understanding of animal behaviour and emotions. These changes are likely to be important in improving children’s behaviour towards animals and reducing cruelty.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes
Event18th European Conference on Developmental Psychology - Utrecht, Netherlands
Duration: 29 Aug 20171 Sept 2017 (Conference website.)


Conference18th European Conference on Developmental Psychology
Internet address


  • Psychology
  • Children
  • Animals
  • Technology
  • Serious games
  • Animal welfare
  • Human-animal interactions


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