2022, Vol. 37(7-8) NP5187 –NP5207
Journal of Interpersonal Violence
© The Author(s) 2020
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Explaining Animal Abuse
Among Adolescents: The
Role of Speciesism
Animal abuse is considered a significant marker of violence towards humans,
and understanding its determinants is important. In this first large-scale
survey on adolescent animal abuse carried out in France, we introduced
and tested the relative explanatory power of a new variable potentially
involved in animal abuse: speciesism, defined as the belief that humans are
intrinsically more valuable than individuals of other species. In a school
sample composed of 12,344 participants aged 13–18 years, we observed that
7.3% of participants admitted having perpetrated animal abuse. Consistent
with existing studies, cats and dogs were the animals most often abused.
Animal abuse was a solitary behavior approximately half of the time, and
in 25% of instances it involved only another person. A multivariate logistic
regression revealed that animal abuse was more frequent among males and
that it occurred more often among adolescents with less positive family
climate, lower support from friends, lower attachment to school, and with
higher anxio-depressive symptomatology. As implied by the generalized
deviance hypothesis, animal abuse was related to more deviant behavior
such as drunkenness and bullying. Moreover, this study showed for the
first time that animal abuse was higher among adolescents who endorsed
speciesist attitudes. These results suggest that beyond psychopathological
factors, normative beliefs regarding the value of animals and their human use
may also be involved in animal mistreatment.
1Universite Grenoble Alpes, 621 Avenue Centrale, Saint-Martin-d’Heres, France
Laurent Bègue, LIPC2S, Grenoble Alpes University, 621 Avenue Centrale, 38400 Saint-Martin-
NP5188 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 37(7-8)
2 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
animal abuse, cruelty, adolescence, speciesism, deviance
I crucified frogs and birds, I had also invented another torture to put them to
death. It was to attach them to a tree with three sharp nails through the belly
(…). I took the children with me to do it sometimes and sometimes I did it all
—Foucault, I, Pierre Rivière, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister,
and My Brother: A Case of Parricide in the 19th Century.
Animal abuse is defined as a “socially unacceptable behavior that intentionally
causes unnecessary pain, suffering, or distress to/or death of an animal”
(Ascione, 1993, p. 228). Because of its obvious implications for animal welfare
as well as its significant connection with human interpersonal violence, it has
attracted attention from various research fields, such as psychiatry and psychol-
ogy (Gullone, 2012; Vaughn et al., 2009), criminology (Agnew, 1998), social
work, forensic research (Ascione et al., 2018; Johnson, 2018), and veterinary
science (Monsalve et al., 2017). The idea of a link between cruelty to animals
and violence towards humans suggested by the life of a Normandy peasant
called Pierre Rivière (see above), sentenced to death in 1836 for multiple mur-
ders, was proposed in many previous writings. For example, it appeared in
ancient philosophy through the works of Pythagoras, as well as in the medieval
writings of the theologian Aquinas and the philosophers Montaigne and Locke.
According to Locke, when children torment and kill an animal, it “hardens their
hearts towards men; and they who delight in the suffering and destruction of
inferior creatures, will not be apt to be very compassionate or benign to those
of their own kind” (Locke, 1693/1989, quoted by Gullone, 2012, p. 5). More
recently, the psychologist Anna Freud and the anthopologist Margaret Mead
have endorsed a similar view: that abusing animals represents a potential pre-
cursor of antisocial behavior. Since 1987, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders has included this behavior as a diagnostic criterion for
conduct disorder, and the relationship between psychiatric disorders and ani-
mal abuse has been investigated in many studies (Ascione et al., 2018; Febres
et al., 2014; Gleyzer et al., 2002; Stupperich & Strack, 2016).
Cruelty Towards Animals and Violence
The association between cruelty to animals and other forms of violence is now
well documented in children, adolescent, and adult samples (Beirne, 2009;
DeMello, 2012; Flynn, 2012; Longobardi & Badenes-Ribera, 2018), and also in
multiple sample categories such as incarcerated offenders (Kellert & Felthous,
1985; Tallichet & Hensley, 2004; Trentham et al., 2018), school shooters
(Verlinden et al., 2000), public mass shooters (Arluke et al., 2018), serial killers
(Ressler et al., 1988; Wright & Hensley, 2003), as well as in the general popula-
tion (Baldry, 2005; Lucia & Killias, 2011; Vaughn et al., 2009). While the two
main etiological interpretations of the phenomenon are still being debated (the
“graduation hypothesis,” which posits that cruelty towards animals occurs at a
specific chronologic stage and prepares violence towards humans, and the “gen-
eralized deviance hypothesis,” in which animal cruelty is a marker of a general
propensity towards deviance), there is global consensus that violence towards
animals is related to violence towards humans. As recent meta-analytic reviews
have indicated, the available data confirming this link are well developed
(Longobardi & Badenes-Ribera, 2018; Monsalve et al., 2017). Forensic veteri-
nary as well as social work practitioners are developing guidelines to take this
phenomenon into account in their diagnosis tools (Merck, 2012; Monsalve et al.,
2017), and since 2016, the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System in
the USA has included data on acts of animal maltreatment (Levitt, 2018).
Animal Abuse and Psychological Deficits
Since the pioneering studies in the 1960s devoted to the phenomenon of ani-
mal abuse, most research has deciphered the correlates of this behavior, with
a major focus on the psychological deficits and frailties of perpetrators. For
example, according to MacDonald (1961, 1963), a child’s proneness to delin-
quency and violence could be predicted by a triad of characteristics compris-
ing enuresis, fire setting, and cruelty to animals (see also Hellman &
Blackman, 1966). While this triad was criticized years later in subsequent
studies (Felthous & Kellert, 1986; Hannah & Alleyne, 2020; Slavkin, 2001),
the general idea remained that animal abuse was a marker of problem behav-
iors (Arluke, 2006; Gullone, 2012; Levin & Arluke, 2009), and this view was
later supported by many other studies. For example, a comparison study of
141 children with at least one symptom of conduct disorder with a commu-
nity sample of 36 children showed that 28% of the children belonging to the
first group committed animal abuse, whereas only 3% did in the community
sample (Luk et al., 1999). More recently, an epidemiological study based on
a sample of 43,093 individuals indicated that many of those with a lifetime
history of animal cruelty showed psychological issues such as conduct disor-
der, histrionic personality disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and path-
ological gambling (Vaughn et al., 2009). Other studies have linked animal
abuse to alcohol and drug use (Arluke et al., 1999; Knight et al., 2014; Mowen
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4 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
& Boman, 2020; Vaughn et al., 2009), narcissism, machiavellianism, and
psychopathy (Kavanagh et al., 2013), callousness (Dadds et al., 2006; Gupta,
2008; Hartman et al., 2019; Stupperich & Strack, 2016; Walters, 2014), and
empathy deficits (Hartman et al., 2019; Kotler & McMahon, 2005; Raine et
al., 2006). Moreover, studies have also shown that people who had exhibited
cruelty to animals were more likely to have witnessed to family violence
(Baldry, 2005; DeGue & DeLillo 2009; Flynn, 2012), or to have been physi-
cally or sexually abused as a child (Ascione et al., 2007; DeGue & DeLillo,
2009; Duncan et al., 2005; McEwen et al., 2014).
The Role of Ideologies and Cultural Norms
As illlustrated by this short literature review, many prior studies on animal abuse
have adopted an individualistic and psychopathological orientation. This domi-
nant perspective was noted by Arluke, who observed that “understanding vio-
lence towards animals remained the sole province of psychologists and animal
welfare advocates. Their approach sees animal abuse as an impulsive act that
reflects psychopathological problems in the offender” (2002, p. 405). As Nurse
(2013) also suggested, thinking of animal offenders as inherently cruel reflects a
common sense logic that may miss a major structural features of animal cruelty.
First, animal abuse is also perpetrated by nonpathological individuals who have
been influenced by their situational context or temporary affective states. Some
proximal emotional states potentially motivating abuse by laypersons such as
frustration (e.g., in response to an animal’s inappropriate behavior) or negative
emotions (causing triggered displaced aggression towards an animal target)
have been pinpointed (Kellert & Felthous, 1985; Patterson-Kane, 2012).
Moreover, beyond these individual and proximal factors, some cultural norms
may also contribute to mistreatment by ordinary and nonpathological individu-
als. Animal harm is not independent of the attitudes of individuals and groups
towards animals (Nurse, 2013). At a global level, most animal mistreatment and
killing is not actually performed by isolated and deviant individuals but is, rather,
instutionalized through various human activities, and therefore represents a rou-
tine, normative, and globalized practice (Cudworth, 2015) such as in state therio-
cide (e.g., the use of animals to test the effectiveness of weapons), factory
farming, hunting and blood sports, lethal trade in wildlife, animal experimenta-
tion, and environmental pollution, among others (Beirne, 2018; see also Sollund,
2017). As has also been underlined by Cudworth (2015), institutionalized vio-
lence towards animals coexists with forms of violence that are considered illegiti-
mate even if these forms have identical painful consequences on animals.
In some studies, a causal junction has been proposed between institution-
alized violence and socially unacceptable violence. For example, using a
panel analysis of 1994–2002 data in 581 counties in the USA, Fitzgerald
(2009) showed that slaughterhouse employment increased total arrest rates,
arrests for violent crimes, arrests for rape, and arrests for other sex offenses
in comparison with employment in other industries. Another study examined
attitudes towards animals and the propensity for aggression within a sample
of farmers and meatworkers, and confirmed that the latter appeared to be
more desensitized to violence (Richards et al., 2013; see, however, Flynn,
2002; Richards et al., 2013).
Support for institutionalized abuse can be found in the higher-order repre-
sentations of the value granted to animals that shape the frontiers of human
consideration. Speciesism is a form of categorical thinking which attributes a
higher value and a hierarchic position to humans than animals (Ryder, 2000;
Singer, 1975). It is empirically related to the acceptance of the various ways
in which humans instrumentalize animals in the food, clothing, leisure, or
biomedical industries (Caviola et al., 2019) and also predicts behavioral pref-
erences towards humans and “superior” animals in relation to allocating
money or investing time (Caviola et al., 2019), and to animal mistreatment in
biomedical research (Bègue & Vezirian, 2020).
In the current study, we reasoned that because of the legitimization of
animal use for human purposes and the fundamental animal objectification
inherent to speciesism, this attitude would be also related to cruelty towards
animals. It has therefore been shown that people who endorse dominionistic
attitudes, that is, those who agree with sentences such as “Humans are a
‘higher order’ species, therefore it is our right to use animals to satisfy our
needs and desire” expressed less punitive attitudes towards animal cruelty
(Vollum et al., 2004). However, to the best of our knowledge, no previous
studies have explored the relationship between a speciesist attitude and ani-
mal cruelty. The present research intends to fill this gap.
Criminological Perspectives on Animal Abuse
In order to demonstrate the unique relevance of speciesism in predicting ani-
mal cruelty, we also introduced a large range of other variables which have
been shown to be related to animal cruelty. In doing so, we relied on two
major criminological perspectives on delinquency (Akers & Sellers, 2017)
that are considered relevant to understanding animal abuse (Agnew, 1998):
general strain theory (Agnew, 2001a) and social bonding theory (Hirschi,
2001). We also included a less theory-driven perspective, the “generalized
deviance hypothesis,” which suggests that animal cruelty is a marker of gen-
eral propensity towards deviance, and represents a symptom among a host of
maladaptative behaviors (Petersen & Farrington, 2007).
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Because there is currently no available data on the correlates of animal
abuse in France, we included a wide spectrum of potentially relevant vari-
ables pertaining to these groups of etiological factors in contemporary crimi-
nological research. We also extended the scope of this study to the social
context of the abuse because there is a lack of data on the situational factors
involved in animal cruelty (Vaughn et al., 2009; see however Henry, 2004;
Hensley et al., 2012; Hensley et al., 2018; Tallichet & Hensley, 2009). The
role of group processes has been underlined in criminological research as an
important component during adolescence (Emler & Reicher, 1995), but this
has barely been studied in relation to animal abuse. In one of the only studies
focusing on this dimension, Arluke and Luke (1997) showed that in a sample
of animal abusers, abuse was perpetrated in presence of others in half of the
cases of adolescent abusers, but only in 13% of the adult abusers. In the pres-
ent study, we investigate the social context of abuse and explore whether the
perpetrator was alone or with peers when performing this behavior.
Animal Abuse and Strain
General strain theory posits that individuals facing certain sources of strain and
stress sometimes cope by engaging in criminal behavior (Agnew, 2001b,
p. 88). This theory identifies three main categories of criminogenic strain: fail-
ure to achieve a desired goal, the removal of positive stimuli (i.e., losing some-
thing good), or being subjected to negative or aversive stimuli (see Brezina,
1996; Hoffman & Cerbone, 1999; Paternoster & Mazerolle, 1994). When ani-
mals destroy property, cause injury, or interfere in some way with valued goals,
they represent a source of strain (Kellert & Felthous, 1985). However, even
strain which has not been caused by the animal themselves may lead to their
abuse. Adolescents sometimes face strain within the educational system (e.g.,
negative school experiences, unjust treatment by authorities, bullying, etc.).
Previous studies have linked animal abuse to traditional bullying and also to
cyberbulling (Baldry, 2005; Gullone & Robertson, 2008; Sanders & Henry,
2017; Signal et al., 2013). Some authors have also suggested that animal abuse
serves a mood enhancement function, being potentially a consequence of
depression (Ascione, 2001). Finally, a common source of strain in Agnew’s
model is financial frustration, and some studies have suggested that poverty
may increase the chance of animal abuse (Levinthal, 2010).
Social Bonding Theory
Social bonding theory is another major criminological approach explaining
animal abuse, as suggested by Agnew (1998). This theory is grounded in
works initially developed by the sociologist Emile Durkheim, who argued that
people conform to societal norms only to the extent that they are restrained by
their various attachments (see Durkheim, 1951). According to this perspec-
tive, social order is based on conventional moral beliefs and values that are
internalized and upheld by society at large. A conventional belief in societal
laws and norms is assumed to be the primary motivational factor that regulates
deviant behavior (Benda, 1997). Individuals conform to conventional norms
to the extent that they are attached to others who accept the legitimacy of such
norms; conversely, individuals deviate from conventional norms to the extent
to which they lack such attachments (Hirschi, 2001; Stark & Bainbridge,
1996). Attachment is another key component in social bond theory. It describes
the psychological and emotional connection a person feels towards other peo-
ple or groups and the extent to which they care about others’ opinions and
feelings. Studies have indicated that animal abuse was more frequent among
adolescents who had weaker bond with their parents (Alleyne & Parfitt, 2017).
According to a third and less theory-driven perspective, the “generalized
deviance hypothesis,” animal cruelty represents a single marker of general
propensity towards deviance and is a symptom of a host of maladaptative
behaviors (Petersen & Farrington, 2007). In that vein, cruelty towards ani-
mals has been related to alcohol and drug use (Knight et al., 2014; Mowen &
Boman, 2020; Vaughn et al., 2009), to the commission of violence and bully-
ing (Baldry, 2005; Sanders & Henry, 2017), and to many other psychiatric
comorbidities (Vaughn et al., 2009).
Aims of the Study
The present study represents the first large scale survey carried out in France on
animal abuse. It had two goals: (a) to describe the prevalence of animal abuse in
a sample of adolescents and its social context; and (b) to analyze the unique con-
tribution of speciesism to animal abuse and the role of adolescent social strain,
social bond, and deviance in an extensive model of multidimensional correlates.
Sampling Procedure and Participants
The sample was composed of 12,344 participants, 49.6% female aged 13–18
years, living in the French department of Isère. All junior high schools in the
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department were eligible and were contacted and 59 schools (56%) partici-
pated. The survey was proposed to all pupils in the 8th and 9th grades of these
schools. Parental consent was requested through the home liaison diary,
which is the usual means for communication between the school and the fam-
ily. Children could orally refuse to participate to the survey even if their par-
ents had approved their participation in the survey. The anonymous
questionnaire was filled out in a classroom on paper under the supervision of
a research assistant. Missing data were imputed using a straightforward linear
interpolation method. Participants who did not indicate their gender (N = 31)
were not included in the analysis.
Social Bonding Variables
Positive family climate.
The assessment of a positive family climate was based on four questions from
Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC Survey, Currie et al., 2010).
A 4-point Likert-type survey was proposed, with options ranging from 1 (not at
all) to 5 (very much). The following items were proposed: In my family, when
I speak, someone listens to what I’m saying; In my family, I believe that we talk
about important things; In my family, we ask questions when we misunder-
stand each other; In my family, when there is a misunderstanding, we talk until
everything is cleared up (M = 4.06, SD = 0.71, Cronbach’s alpha = .73).
Social support from friends.
Support from friends was assessed based on two items from the HBSC
Survey (Currie et al., 2010). A 4-point Likert-type survey was proposed, with
options ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much). The following items
were proposed: I can count on my friends when things go wrong; I have
friends with whom I can share joys and sorrows (M = 4.45, SD = 0.75,
Cronbach’s alpha = .78).
School climate was based on three items from the HBSC Survey (Currie et
al., 2010). A 5-point Likert-type survey was proposed, with options ranging
from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much). The following items were proposed:
Most of the students in my class(es) are kind and helpful; Other students
accept me as I am; The students in my class(es) take pleasure being together
(M = 3.88, SD = 0.73, Cronbach’s Alpha = .70).
Attachment to school.
Attachment to school was based on three items from the HBSC survey (Currie
et al., 2010). A 5-point Likert-type survey was proposed, with options rang-
ing from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much). Example items: I feel that my profes-
sors accept me like I am; Generally, I feel that my professors congratulate me
when I achieve and encourage me when I face difficulty; I can confide in at
least one adult at school (M = 3.64, SD = 0.82, Cronbach’s alpha = .62).
This measure was based on three items from the HBSC Survey (Currie et al.,
2010). A 5-point Likert-type survey was proposed, with options ranging from 1
(completely disagree) to 5 (completely agree). The following items were pro-
posed: During the three last months, have you skipped school? During the three
last months, have you been in detention? During the three last months, have you
been excluded from your class? (M = 3.88, SD = 0.72, Cronbach’s alpha = .70).
Perceived economic affluence.
The perceived economic affluence of the family was based on a single item
from the HBSC Survey (Currie et al., 2010): How well off do you think your
family is? A 5-point Likert-type survey was proposed with options ranging
from 1 (not at all well off) to 5 (very well off) (M = 3.66, SD = 0.78).
Anxiety and depression.
The anxiety and depression measure were based on three items from the HBSC
Survey (Currie et al., 2010): During the last six months, how often have you
been depressed? During the last six months, how often have you been irritable?
During the last six months, how often have you been nervous, stressed, anxious?
A 5-point Likert-type survey was proposed with options ranging from 1 (rarely
or never) to 5 (nearly every day) (M = 2.57; SD = 1.01, Cronbach’ s alpha = .72).
The life satisfaction measure was based on the adaptation by Levin and Curie
(2014) of the single-item measure originally developed by Cantril (1965).
The Cantril Scale is considered an important indicator of adolescent health
(Mazur et al., 2016). The following sentence introduces the scale: Here is a
picture of a ladder. The top of the ladder “10” is the best possible life for you
and the bottom “0” is the worst possible life for you. In general, where on the
ladder do you feel you stand at the moment? An 11-point Likert-type survey
was proposed, with options ranging from 0 (worst life possible) to 10 (best
life possible) (M = 6.12, SD = 1.85).
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10 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
Victimization at school was measured based on a single item from the HBSC
Survey (Currie et al., 2010). Participants were introduced to the question using
the following sentence: We say a student is being bullied when another student,
or a group of students, say or do nasty or unpleasant things to him or her. It is also
bullying when a student is teased repeatedly in a way he or she does not like, or
when he or she is deliberately left out of things. In the past two months, how often
have you been bullied at school? A 5-point Likert-type survey was proposed with
options ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (many times a week; M = 1.52, SD = 0.93).
In order to evaluate their experiences of drunkenness, participants were asked
the following question: Have you ever drunk alcoholic beverages up to being
completely drunk? A 5-point Likert-type survey was proposed with options
ranging from 1 (no, never) to 5 (more than 10 times; M = 1.15, SD = 0.53).
Participants were asked the following single question: In the past two months,
how often have you bullied one or several classmates at school? A 5-point
Likert-type survey was proposed with options ranging from 1 (never) to 5
(many times a week; M = 1.52, SD = 0.93).
Participation in fights.
Participation in fights was measured using the following single item: In the
past three months, how many times have you participated in a fight (with
exchange of blows, and the intention of harming) in school or elsewhere? A
5-point Likert-type survey was proposed with options ranging from 1 (never)
to 5 (four times or more; M = 1.44, SD = 0.95).
General speciesism was measured by the single-item question: The life of a
human being has more value than animal’s life, adapted from Caviola et al.
(2019). A 5-point Likert-type survey was proposed with options ranging from
1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree; M = 2.57, SD = 1.26). We also mea-
sured domain-specific speciesism, that is, the participants’ attitudes towards
animal experiments, via the following two items: When it comes to finding
the best treatments for illnesses, doing experiments on animals is justified,
even if this can make them suffer and sacrificing animals such as mice or rats
for scientific research is normal. A 5-point Likert-type survey was proposed,
with options ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree; M = 2.58,
SD = 1.08, Cronbach’s alpha = .68).
Dependent Measure: Animal Abuse
Following many prior studies (Hensley & Tallichet, 2009; Hensley et al., 2006;
Tallichet & Hensley, 2004, 2005, 2009), we relied on a single item to measure
animal abuse. Participants were presented with the following question: Have you
ever harmed or wounded an animal on purpose? Possible responses were coded
1 (Yes) or 0 (No). If the answer was 1, three additional questions were then asked
about the frequency of the behavior: First, How many times did this occur? 1
(Once), 2 (Twice), 3 (Three times or more); then a question asking which species
were involved on the last occasion—1 (A dog), 2 (A cat), 3 (A fish), 4 (A bird), 5
(A rodent, rabbit, mouse, hamster, or guinea pig), 5 (Other); and lastly, a question
asking for details of the social context in which it occurred on the last occasion: 1
(Alone), 2 (With another person), 3 (With two people or more).
We observed that 7.3% of the participants (N = 899) declared that they had
harmed or wounded an animal on purpose. Among them, 44.0% indicated
that they had performed this behavior once, 14.7% had done so twice, and
41,3% had done so more than twice. The following percentages were observed
for each category of animal presented: dog: 13.9%; cat: 22.5%; fish: 6.4%;
bird: 11.6%; rodent, 8.2%; and other, 37.3%. Finally, regarding the social
context, most of the time the abuse was reported to have been committed
alone (54,9%); in 25% of the cases, it involved another person, and in 20.1%
of the cases, two other people or more were involved.
We first compared animal abusers (AA) to animal non-abusers (ANA) based
on Chi-squares and t-tests applying Bonferroni corrections (see Table 1). The
results showed that at a bivariate level, all the hypothesized differences
between animal abusers and animal non-abusers were observed in the
expected direction, except for perceived affluence, which did not show any
significant variation between the two.
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Table 1. Univariate Comparisons Between Animal Abusers and Animal Non-abusers.
Animal Non-abusers Animal Abusers Statistical Tests
Age (Mean, SD) 14.53 (0.63) 14.56 (0.67) t(12235) = 1.03, ns
Gender (% Males) 48.8 % 67.7 % χ2 (1) = 119.64, p < .000
Social bond variables
Positive family climate (4 items, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 4.08 (0.71) 3.88 (0.74) t(12235) = 7.94, p < .000
Support from friends (2 items, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 4.47 (0.74) 4.28 (0.83) t(1014,19) = 6.59, p < .000
School climate (3 items, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 3.89 (0.76) 3.78 (0.74) t(12235) = 4.18, p < .000
School deviance (3 items, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 1.38 (0.76) 1.67 (1.00) t(974,88) = 8,44, p < .000
Attachment to school (3 items, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 3.66 (0.81) 3.37 (0.88) tcor(1021,35) = 9,46), p < .000
Perceived affluence (1 item, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 3.66 (0.78) 3.63 (0.88) tcor(1012,90) = 0.79, ns
Anxiety and depression (3 items, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 2.56 (1.01) 2.76 (1.03) t(12235) = 5,51, p < .000
Life satisfaction (1 item, 0 to 10, mean, SD) 6.14 (1.84) 5.86 (1.98) t(1024,555) = 4.13), p < .000
Bullying (victim) (1 item, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 1.52(0.93) 1.61 (0.93) t(1023, 372) = 2.76, p < .006
Drunkenness (1 item, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 1.14 (0.50) 1.32 (0.83) t(950,41) = 9.92, p < .000
Bullying (perpetrator) (1 item, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 1.27 (0.61) 1.61 (0.92) t(961.194) = 15.13, p < .000
Participation in fights (1 item, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 1.41 (0.92) 1.77 (1.24) t(977,81) = 8.50, p < .000
General speciesism(1 items, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 2.63 (1.25) 2.97 (1.33) t(12234) = 7,64, p < .000
Specific speciesism (2 items, 1 to 5, mean, SD) 2.55 (1.07) 2.96 (1.17) t(1019,273) = 10,19, p < .000
Then, a logistic regression analysis was performed to estimate the odds
ratio (OR) and 95% confidence interval (95% CI) of every variable in order
to predict the commission of animal abuse (coded 1) contrasted with the
noncommission of this behavior (coded 0). Age and gender were entered
into block 1 of a multivariate analysis. In block 2, each potential predictive
factor was added stepwise to the model using an automated forward selec-
tion procedure. The significance level used to select variables that would
remain in the model was p < .05. The results confirmed that beyond the
variables known to differentiate animal abusers from animal non-abusers in
previous studies (males with less positive family climate, lower support
from friends, lower attachment to school, higher anxio-depression, and more
deviant behaviors (drunkenness and bullying), attitudes regarding the
(lower) value of animals (general speciesism) and attitudes supporting ani-
mal experiment (specific speciesism) were significantly related to animal
abuse (see Table 2). The overall model accounted for 10.2% of the variance
(Nagelkerke pseudo R2).
Table 2. Multivariate Logistic Regression Predicting Animal Abuse.
Odds Ratio CI P
Age 1.06 0.95–1.19 .25
Gender 1.88 1.60–2.22 .000
Positive family climate 0.87 0.78–0.96 .01
Support from friends 0.85 0.78–0.93 .000
School climate 0.93 0.83–1.03 .17
School deviance 1.06 0.97–1.16 .17
Attachment to school 0.84 0.77–0.92 .000
Anxiety and depression 1.22 1.13–1.33 .000
Life satisfaction 0.98 0.94–1.03 . 59
Perceived affluence 1.06 0.96–1.16 .20
Bullying (perpetrator) 1.42 1.30–1.55 .000
Bullying (victim) 0.95 0.88–1.03 .25
Drunkenness 1.22 1.10–1.34 .000
Participation in fights 1.06 0.98–1.13 .098
General speciesism 1.16 1.09–1.24 .000
Specific speciesism 1.22 1.13–1.32 .000
Constant 0.01 .000
NP5200 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 37(7-8)
14 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
In this first large-scale survey on animal abuse carried out in France, we
observed that 7.3% of participants in our adolescent sample declared having
perpetrated animal abuse in the past. This represents a rather lower percent-
age compared to some other studies which have previously been carried out
in samples of children and adolescents aged 12–17, in which the percentages
of participants reported as having abused animals at least once has ranged
from 11% to 50% (Baldry, 2003, 2005; Lucia & Killias, 2011; Pagani et al.,
2010). Consistent with existing studies (e.g., Arluke & Luke, 1997), cats and
dogs were the animals most often victimized. Animal abuse was a solitary
behavior approximately half of the time, and in 25% of the time it involved
only one other person. This study confirmed many of the observations made
in previous studies carried out in other countries: that animal abuse was pre-
dominant among males (Arluke & Luke, 1997; Flynn, 2000; Kellert &
Felthous, 1985; Rigdon & Tapia 1977; Vaughn et al., 2009). It also occurred
more frequently among adolescents with less positive relationships with their
parents and weaker attachment to their friends and to school and with higher
anxio-depressive symptomatology. As implied by the generalized deviance
hypothesis, animal abuse was related to more deviant behavior such as drunk-
enness and bullying.
In addition to these factors, we showed for the first time that animal abuse
was higher among adolescents who endorsed speciesist attitudes. More spe-
cifically, we observed that our two measures of speciesism were both signifi-
cantly related to animal abuse. Such results suggest that beyond
psychopathological factors, some distal macro-level ideologies and cultural
norms may also be linked to animal mistreatment among adolescents. It is
interesting to note that in our sample, the weight of anxiety and depression
was similar to the weight of specific speciesism to predict animal abuse.
Contrary to most predictors of animal abuse, speciesism is not an expression
of deviance or a psychiatric issue; on the contrary, it represents a normative
attitude. For example, in European countries, acceptance of animal experi-
mentation is positively linked in the public mind with information on new
medical discoveries, participation in public discussions on science, and a
general support for science and technology (Crettaz von Roten, 2013).1
Several limitations of the present study should be noted. First, even if research
on the validity of self-reported data has concluded that young people are
sincere about sensitive matters when appropriate precautions are taken (e.g.,
Hindelang et al., 1979; Winters et al., 1990), it is not possible to estimate of
the possible bias in under or overreporting animal cruelty. Second, the cross-
sectional design of our study prevents any causal inference to be drawn
regarding the measured variables. Third, we did not investigate the underly-
ing motives for animal abuse. According to Patterson-Kane (2012), three
main causal categories for animal abuse should be differentiated: expressive,
instrumental, and abnormal. A more thorough specification of the underlying
nature of animal abuse may represent an important improvement for future
research. Finally, the issue of generalizability outside the present sample
remains to be clarified. There may be some significant variations in animal
abuse in other geographic places in France as well as in French overseas
departments. In a comparative perspective, the inclusion of additional vari-
ables (e.g., economic, social, and cultural dimensions) could provide critical
insights regarding factors related to cruelty towards animals, as it is the case
regarding other forms of delinquency. Further studies should include this
In conclusion, this study, which was carried out on a large sample of French
adolescents, showed that social bond and strain variables were relevant in
analyzing animal abuse. In addition, we found that general attitudes regard-
ing the intrinsic value of animals and the acceptance of their instrumental use
in legitimate social practices (animal experimentation) were also signifi-
cantly related to self-reported abuse. This suggests that even when it comes
to explaining deviant and rare behaviors such as animal cruelty, widely held
beliefs regarding animals’ value are an important factor explaining the vic-
timization of animals.
Declaration of conflicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
1. Moreover, in our sample, the ancillary analysis indicated that attachment to
school was slightly related to support for animal experimentation (R = .08, p <
NP5202 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 37(7-8)
16 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
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Laurent Bègue, PhD, is full professor of Social Psychology at Grenoble Alpes
University, France. He is currently the Head of the House of Human Sciences and is
member of the University Institute of France. He was also visiting professor in
Stanford University (USA) and Brock University (Canada). He is mainly interested in
the determinants of aggressive behavior, deviant behavior and justice beliefs, and
published in journals such as Psychological Bulletin, Personality and Social
Psychology Bulletin, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Cognition, and
Neurosciences and Biobehavioral Reviews.