Cornish, A., Wilson, B., Raubenheimer, D. et al. 2018. Demographics regarding belief in non-human animal sentience and emotional empathy with animals: A pilot study among attendees of an animal welfare symposium. Animals 8(10), 174.
Attitudes to animals are linked to beliefs about their ability to experience pain and suffering, their cognition, and their sentience. Education and awareness-raising play a pivotal role in increasing society’s consideration of non-human animal welfare. The current pilot study explores the attitudes towards animal welfare among a unique population of people who attended an animal welfare symposium at the University of Sydney. It involved administration of a validated questionnaire that assessed attitudes to animals; specifically exploring participants’ (n = 41) beliefs about the sentience of animals and their emotional empathy with animals. The resultant data revealed significant associations between participants’ beliefs in animal sentience and their demographic variables (age, sex and occupation). Female attendees showed stronger beliefs in sentience than male attendees did. Concerning sentience in cows, pigs and cats, older attendees showed stronger beliefs than younger people in sentience relating to hunger and pain. Also, with regard to questions about sentience in dogs, older attendees showed stronger beliefs than younger people in pain-related sentience in dogs. When exploring emotional empathy with animals, the participants’ statements could be assigned to three clusters characterised by the internal emotional lives of animals and the treatment of animals by humans (Cluster 1), human interactions with animals (Cluster 2) and the keeping of companion and zoo animals (Cluster 3). To the authors’ knowledge, this pilot study is the first of its kind to investigate the attitudes towards animal welfare of an important group of people who work, study or have a special interest within the animal care and welfare domain.