Animal Studies Bibliography

Opotow, Susan. 1993. Animals and the Scope of Justice. Journal of Social Issues 49(1): 71-85.

The scope of justice is the area within which we consider morality and fairness applicable. Over time, various human groups have been excluded from the scope of justice, and animals are currently excluded from it by most people. This exclusion means there are few limits to ways we feel we can treat animals and their habitats. The scope of justice, however, is changeable, and this experiment seeks to examine how different relationships to animals may change whether we believe they deserve just treatment.


1) Justice/concern will be extended when animals are perceived as similar to humans.

2) Justice/concern will be extended when animals are perceived as useful to humans.

3) Justice/concern will be greater in low-conflict situations than in high-conflict ones.

Independent Variables/Operational Definitions

Subjects read different versions of a textbook article about the Bombardier beetle so that they would learn it was similar to humans (same biological needs and social behavior--raise young, protect territory) or dissimilar (can't learn, don't raise their young, rote, preprogrammed behavior (75)); that the beetle was beneficial (natural insecticide and pollinator--$1 billion/year benefits) or harmful (kills crops, eats stored grain--costs $1 billion/year); and that the situation to be addressed was low-conflict (humans' need for the beetles' habitat is questionable (76), for an industrial complex) or high-conflict (human need for the habitat is important, for a reservoir).

Dependent Variables/Operational Definitions

Attitudinal questions measuring subjects' willingness to allocate resources to the beetle, degree to which considerations of fairness should apply to the beetle, willingness to make sacrifices to foster the beetle's well-being, difficulty making a decision that could harm the beetle, and willingness to support concrete protective measures (76).


Hypotheses regarding the effects of conflict and utility were supported. Surprisingly, the hypothesis regarding similarity was not supported, perhaps because perceiving another as similar is not enough to see your self-interest in their success. A Conflict x Utility interaction was observed in which high-conflict situations undid the concern extended by the animal's usefulness. Similarly, a Conflict x Similarity interaction showed that subjects actually decreased their extension of justice to the beetle when it was perceived as similar and in high-conflict with humans. These findings suggest that context is crucial for extension of the scope of justice and for what kinds of utility and similarity matter to people. Gender had no effect, because as expected, females showed greater empathy but also greater dislike for insects, so the effects canceled out.

Sample/population sampled

A convenience sample of NY metro area high school administrators suggested teachers of courses relevant to the study (ethics, science, English, psych., etc.), which led to 20 classes from 9 high schools participating, with a sample of 363 students with nationally representative proportions of gender and race/ethnicity.


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