The Relationship Between Humane Interactions with Animals, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior among Children

Matthew Wice1, Namrata Goyal2, Nicole Forsyth3, Karly Noel3, & Emanuele Castano4

1State University of New York at New Paltz, 2Columbia University, 3RedRover, & 4Sarajevo School of Science and Technology

We investigated the relationship between empathy, prosocial behavior, and frequency of humane interactions with animals among 3rd grade children (n = 158). We measured the frequency of humane interactions with animals via the Children’s Treatment of Animals Questionnaire (Thompson & Gullone, 2003), empathy via the Bryant Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents (Bryant, 1982), and prosocial behavior via teachers’ evaluations of children’s helpfulness towards others in the classroom. Results showed that children who had more frequent interactions with animals that involved a strong element of companionship reported greater empathy, and that this, in turn, related positively to prosocial behavior (measured by teacher’s report). A mediational model in which empathy accounts for the effect of positive interactions with animals on prosocial behavior provides consistent, if not conclusive, support for the relationship between interacting with animals and socio-emotional development.

keywords: empathy, prosocial behavior, children, animals

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Matthew Wice, Department of Psychology, State University of New York at New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz, NY, 12561, Email: wicem@newpaltz.edu or Emanuele Castano, Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, Hrasnička cesta 3a, Ilidža 71210, Bosnia and Herzegovina, emanuele.castano@gmail.com.