Jared Piazza, Lucy Cooper, and Shannon Slater-Johnson
Lancaster University, Department of Psychology
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 humane interactions with animals reported greater empathy. Additionally, higher frequency of humane interactions with animals was indirectly related to prosocial behavior (i.e., empathy fully mediated the relationship between children’s interactions with animals and prosocial behavior). Results highlight the behavioral consequences and positive socio-emotional benefits of interacting with animals. Furthermore, the research provides support for empathy as a critical mediating factor through which positive interactions with animals lead to prosocial behavior in children.