Revisiting a Link: Animal Abuse, Bullying, and Empathy in Australian Youth

Denise Parkes & Tania Signal
Central Queensland University

Experience of deliberate animal harm has been found to be a risk factor for school-based violence and later criminality. However, much of the extant research is based on retrospective or caregiver reports with few studies surveying youth directly. The aim of the current study was to address this gap. Sixty-three Australian youth (47 females, 16 males) aged 14-18 years completed an online survey assessing their experience of engaging in and/or witnessing animal abuse (AA) and engaging in/being a victim of bullying. Levels of egoistic need for power and human-directed empathy were also assessed. Expected gender-based differences in experience of animal abuse (directly and as a witness) and personality variables were found. As a cohort, witnessing and/or directly engaging in AA significantly correlated with bullying, while engaging in (not merely witnessing) AA, lower affective empathy and a high need for power were found to predict perpetration of bullying for males. Disparity in findings reported in the literature as well as predictive links between bullying and animal abuse suggest the need for more research in this area. The inclusion of humane education content within extant antibullying interventions may prove efficacious in attending to multiple risk factors including empathy deficits.

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