Animal Studies Bibliography

The Social Psychology of Animal Rights
William J. Kinney
Wisconsin Sociologist 1991, 28-4, pg. 10-16

This article seeks a social psychological understanding of the animal rights movement in terms of individual motivational appeal and the social manifestations through which the movement has expressed itself. The examination is basically divided into two parts. The first explores how current norms regarding the relationship between humans and non-human animals have come to be. This part also discusses several social psychological theories, which are useful for explaining the strength of the current status quo ideologies. The second half of the article deals with need to break this status quo and reexamine the moral relationship between humans and non-human animals, as viewed by the animal rights activists.

For 98% of 3-4 million years, the primary until of social organization was the hunter-gather unit. The killing of other species was a matter of survival. A social reality was constructed which made it possible to view hunting as a necessity. If animals were deserving of our moral respect, we wouldn't have hunted them. A 3-stage process of social reality is offered to understand how this social ideology is constructed: externalization -sharing some aspect of social reality with each other; objectification -an externalized consensus assumes an objective social form; and internalization -perceptions created through externalization and objectification are retrojected (pg. 11) into human consciousness during socialization.

In order to maintain the current ideology that animals deserve low moral consideration, this view must be conceptualized as normal. Common sense dictates that it is easier to conform and comply with our socialization and prevailing norms than it is to break them. Kinney suggests that we live in an anthropocentric society, which has three characteristic perceptions with regards to inter-species relations. First, animals are neither functional, nor peripheral to society. Second, they are perceived to be incapable of recognizing and respecting the rights of others, which means that thirdly, they are not moral creatures and are less deserving of human moral consideration. To support this claim, three theories are introduced. Social Judgment-Involvement Theory suggests that after a competitive judgement is made, attitude change will occur to the degree that minimal discrepancy exists between the advocated position and the status quo position of the receptor (pg. 12). Another theory that supports the change-inhibitive idea proposed through social judgment-involvement theory is Adaptation Level Theory. According to this perspective, we adapt to a diverse variety of social environments, and incorporate these adaptations into a personal or social idea of normalcy.

Given these theories, Kinney then seeks to answer the question, Why has the animal rights challenge of the last ten years seeming met with more social acceptance and success than past challenges. (pg. 12). To answer this question, Kinney examines the current status of inter-species relations in Western society.

Society is consistent in that it has been inconsistent with regard to the attitude towards non-human species within society. Animals in general are becoming more highly revered. For instance, our most important cultural symbols are animals. We have developed an enhanced value of compassion and caring. This stems greatly from the idealized teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Ghandi. Kinney also suggests that there has been a strengthening of values over the past 60 years.

The role of inconsistency as a catalyst for behavioral motivation is evident by examining several theories. Cognitive Dissonance Theory dictates that humans have an inherent desire for consistency and inconsistency motivates them to rearrange their physiological world to restore consistency. Balance Theory follows the same principal that inconsistency creates discomfort and behavioral motivations are geared towards attaining consistency but proposes a more detailed analysis for understanding how inconsistency in attitude evidences itself in the human psyche. Kinney explores this theory in detail as it applies to both personal and social attitudes towards the animal rights movement. It is suggested that by institutionalizing the means of utilization, the unpleasantness in kept from the public and resistance is minimized. Secrecy is thus an effective tool for conscience obstruction (pg. 14).

This is of major concern to the animal rights movement. They seek to heighten public awareness regarding animal utilization in hopes that avoidance as a means of psychological balance will change through behavioral motivation. Radical activism has been downplayed due to the change-inhibitive social psychological tendencies that Kinney offered earlier. They have taken the attitude that changes to existing norms must be of an acceptable, incremental nature.



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