Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Publication Date

Spring 2014


People generally tend to love and show care for animals. Yet they also purchase and consume animal products that are produced in a way that causes animals great suffering. This critical literature review focuses on the psychological mechanisms that ease or eliminate cognitive tensions associated with the recognition of one’s contribution to animal suffering. The major mechanisms discussed are cognitive dissonance, psychic numbing, denial of mind, and linguistic objectification. Psychosocial factors are also discussed, including physical invisibility of animal cruelty, improper socialization about farm animals, and group biases. Recent studies specifically focused on human attitudes toward animals and their suffering are supplemented by attention to broader coping mechanisms associated with the large-scale suffering of others. The results of the research discussed in this review suggest that cognitive dissonance is the cause of unpleasant guilt associated with animal suffering and is thus a crucial motivating factor for behavioral or attitudinal change. Since most Americans do not cease consumption of animal products, attitudinal changes are presented as the preferred route to dissonance reduction. The mechanism of psychic numbing may aid in dulling the negative affect associated with mass suffering. Denial of mind to animals may ease tension by devaluing their suffering, which is likely also a result of linguistic objectification. Social factors are suggested as aiding these mechanisms. Overall these findings suggest that ending animal cruelty will involve significant psychological and social adjustments in the way we think about and address animals.