Animal Studies Bibliography
Neoteny in American Perceptions of Animals
Lawrence, Elizabeth A. (1989)
In P.J. Hoage (ed), Perceptions of Animals in American Culture (pg. 57-76). Washington DC . Smithsonian Institution.
Neoteny is the perception of animals as having child-like qualities. Humans associate with the animals on a parent-child level, feeling that they have a responsibility to the animals because they are so innocent and helpless. Neoteny is frequently used in children's literature and cartoons. Disney characters are an example of neoteny. These highly recognized characters shape perceptions of animals and minimize the separation between man and nature. When cartoon characters are neotenized, they become lovable objects and elicit feeling of tenderness. Characteristics of neoteny are short facial region of the skull, large brain case, and big eyes. These are also characteristic of most juvenile animals. While neotenous characteristics allow humans to identify more closely with animals, animals who are portrayed without neotenous characteristics are often associated with negative qualities. For example, the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood has a large snout, beady eyes, and a low forehead. The wolf is portrayed as an evil villain, as are many animals that have these characteristics. Many other cultures have a very different relationship with animals than traditional western cultures and therefor have vastly different perceptions of them. Prehistoric peoples viewed animals as having superior powers. The Plains Indians believed that animals provided intellectual and spiritual guidance. Western perceptions of animals is often that they are resources to be used at our disposal. This is quite different from the Naskapi view. Within this culture exists a respect and adoration between the hunter and the hunted in order to assure a bountiful supply of food and other necessities. Other cultures, such as the Aboriginies, have a totemic social structure. These people identify with each other based on their association with a particular animal. Instead of identifying with animals which possess more human qualities such as childlike features, many non-western cultures value animals based on qualities which the animal itself possess.