Psychological risk factors for childhood animal cruelty: a systematic review

Emma Hawkins, Roxanne Hawkins, Joanne Williams

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Despite growing research into human-animal relationships, relatively little research has focused on
negative relationships between children and animals. The purpose of this review was to investigate the potential psychological risk factors for childhood cruelty to animals. The aim was to assemble,
synthesise and evaluate the quality and breadth of existing empirical research and highlight areas in
need of further study on this topic.

To identify valid literature, the PRISMA guidelines were consulted and a Boolean search was conducted. Eighteen databases were searched, pre-defined inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied and the quality of the final 39 articles was assessed using a quality assessment tool. The review reveals a myriad of potential psychological risk factors associated with childhood animal cruelty, these factors are complex, multifaceted and may be interrelated. Risk factors included but was not limited to: adverse childhood histories such as abuse and neglect, witnessing abuse, mental health, sadism, callous and unemotional traits, lack of empathy, and behavioural problems such as
conduct disorder, fire setting, aggression, destructiveness and bullying. The review also highlights
possible social and environmental factors that may have an impact on child-animal relationships. The review highlights a decrease in research interest in recent years, a lack of high quality publications and confirms the need for more stringent methodological procedures to improve the integrity of this field of research and to expand our knowledge and understanding of animal cruelty.

Investigating the predictors of cruel behaviour towards animals has great implications for animal welfare and child wellbeing, as well as being vital for designing and implementing successful universal and targeted interventions to prevent cruelty to animals. The lack of standardised animal cruelty measures as well as sensitivity issues may be impeding the advancement of research in this area. Due to the significant implications, it is important that future research addresses and improves upon the methodological flaws outlined in this review.
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 cruelty
  • children
  • violence
  • at-risk


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