The links between personality, empathy and animal cruelty attitudes and behaviour: a cross national comparison

Emma L. Hawkins, Roxanne D. Hawkins, Lina M. Caceres Castellanos, Joanne M. Williams

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Human-animal relationships are complex and we are still trying to understand why some young people care for and nurture animals while others mistreat them. There are a range of factors that could affect animal cruelty attitudes and behaviours that have not yet been fully explored; the current research focuses on the role of empathy, personality factors, such as callousness and empathetic concern, and
cultural factors. This study is one of the first cross-national comparisons of the connections between personality, empathy and animal cruelty.

540 participants (80% female) from 6 continents completed an online survey. Participants were recruited using ‘snowball sampling’ where English and Spanish versions of the online survey were shared online via social networks and university departments across continents. The survey comprised of a variety of measures for empathy towards both humans and animals, attitudes towards animal cruelty, animal cruelty behaviour, personality and demographics.

A wide range of interesting results were found. 11.7% of the sample had hurt an animal purpose, those who did mostly hurt invertebrates, infrequently, did not try to hide the behaviour, hurt animals with a friend who joined in and most felt remorse. Higher acceptance of animal cruelty was correlated with lower empathy towards animals (p=.000) and humans (p=.013), lower scores on the subscales of perspective-taking (p=.001), empathetic concern (p=.000), careless (p=.008), and higher scores on the sub-scales of callousness (p=.018) and uncaring (p=.003). Higher acceptance of animal cruelty was also correlated with lower conscientiousness (p=.002). Attitudes towards animal cruelty was related to cruelty behaviour. One-way ANOVA showed differences between continents where those from South America scored significantly lower on empathy towards animals than Europe (p=.000), North America (p=.000), Australia (p=.000), and Asia (p=.001). There was a higher incidence of animal cruelty behaviour in Asia (37.8%) than in North America (15.3%), South America (9.9%), Europe (6.3%), and Australia (5.6%). Empathy towards animals was correlated with empathy towards humans (r=-.154, p=.000).

This study sheds new light into the complicated factors affecting young people’s animal cruelty behaviour and acceptance of animal cruelty, as well as providing new insights into the role of personality
in human-animal relationships. We hope that the information gained from this project will be beneficial for those trying to understand causes of animal cruelty and those designing animal cruelty prevention
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes
EventHuman-Animal Interconnections - UC Davis, Davis, United States
Duration: 22 Jun 201725 Jun 2017 (List of past ISAZ conferences.)


ConferenceHuman-Animal Interconnections
Abbreviated titleISAZ 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Psychology
  • Violence
  • Callous
  • Personality
  • Human-animal interactions
  • Behaviour
  • Animal cruelty


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