Those high and low in religiosity are more likely to support the killing of animals

New research published in Anthrozoös indicates that people who are very religious or not religious at all are the most likely to support the killing of animals.

“I am interested in the psychological forces that motivate people to support the killing of animals,” said lead researcher Uri Lifshin of the University of Arizona.

“Beyond my desire to reduce the — sometimes unnecessary — mass killing and abuse of animals, I think that if we want to better understand the psychological causes of racism and intergroup conflicts, we should also consider why people are sometimes so violent towards animals. Because in a way, animals are our ultimate ‘outgroup.”

The study of 1,078 undergraduate students found that atheists tended to support the killing of animals more than theists.

The researchers also found a U-shaped curvilinear relationship between religiosity and support for killing animals. In other words, participants low and high in religiosity were the most likely to disagree with statements such as “An experiment should never cause the killing of animals” and “People should never kill animals because of overpopulation.”

The researchers also analyzed data from a previous study, which allowed them to replicate the curvilinear relationship between religiosity and support for killing animals.

“While these findings are still preliminary in the sense that we still don’t know enough about the mechanisms that really explain or mediate the effect, or about the conditions that limit or moderate it, I think that this research can be informative in several ways,” Lifshin told PsyPost.

“First, this research sets the record straight about religiosity and support for killing animals — it shows that the relationship is more complex than the popular notion that religiosity, at least in Abrahamic religions, is generally associated with more negative attitudes towards animals”.

“Instead, it points out that moderate levels of religiosity are associated with less support for killing of animals compared to both very low and very high levels of religiosity, and that a general belief in God is associated with lower levels of support for killing animals compared to disbelief,” Lifshin explained.

“These findings also raise the question of whether there are other realms in which both very religious and non-religious individuals might support aggressive actions more than those who are moderately religious, and if there are other contexts in which belief in God may be associated with more peaceful attitudes compared to disbelief.”

The study includes some limitations.

“This research does have many limitations. Primarily, due to the correlational nature of these findings, we should be careful about deducing causal inferences. In this type of research it’s always possible that some third (confounding) variable is driving the effect,” Lifshin said.

“While we tried to control for this possibility as much as possible (e.g., by taking into account the participant’s gender and political views), we can never be absolutely sure that atheism causes more support for killing animals or that belief in God directly reduces it. The problem is of course somewhat inherent to the study of religiosity, because it’s very hard (maybe impossible) to manipulate religiosity (to make people more or less religious) in a controlled experiment.”

“Another major caveat is the fact that our sample was limited to American college students, who were mainly Christian, and more research needs to be conducted among diverse samples across different cultures and religions before we can generalize the effect,” Lifshin continued.

“Finally, while the effect was consistently found across multiple studies, we still don’t know enough about the specific mechanisms (mediators) that underline it. Our hope is that this research will inspire others who are interested in the topic, and that with the accumulation of research we will eventually be able to know more about this phenomenon.”

The study, “Religiosity and Support for Killing Animals: Evidence of a Curvilinear Relationship“, was authored by Uri Lifshin, Jeff Greenberg, and Daniel Sullivan.