Human Helping of Animals: What Motivates It?

Lauren E. Highfill & Mark H. Davis

Eckerd College

While considerable research has been carried out to understand helping offered to other humans, relatively little research has focused specifically on the motivations underlying helping for animals. It is possible that the social psychological helping literature may help shed light on the question of human-animal helping, and may provide some ways to investigate this issue. To evaluate this possibility, we provided participants with a hypothetical situation involving an animal in need of help. Participants were asked to imagine that the situation is happening to them, and then to indicate the likelihood that they would provide the needed help. They were also asked to report on the thoughts and feelings that they would experience in that situation. Our results indicated that the same variables that have been used successfully in understanding the motivations underlying the help we offer to fellow humans (obligation, oneness, empathic concern) also successfully predict helping offered to non-humans. Also consistent with the social psychological research on helping motivations, both egoistic and altruistic motives appear to play a role in the helping decisions regarding animals. Thus, initial evidence suggests that this technique may be a valid way of examining the motivations underlying the helping that humans offer to animals.

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Keywords: companion animals, empathic concern, obligation, oneness, Pets
Posted in Volume 8, No. 3