P. 648

An Urban Experience
E. Patterson-Kane1
1American Veterinary Medical Association, Animal Welfare Division, Schaumburg, USA
Emily Patterson-Kane, PhD
American Veterinary Medical Association 1931 N Meacham Rd Ste 100 Schaumburg IL 60173
When assessing abusive or potentially abusive conduct in an individual, it is important to identify whether the person’s attitudes are normative for their community or culture. Animal cruelty is typically de ned as “Socially unacceptable behavior that intentionally causes unnecessary pain, suffering, or distress to and/or death of an animal” Activities that are socially acceptable
are not generally associated with deviant or extreme personalities traits or recognized mental illnesses, suggesting that they do not routinely cause and are not caused by psychological abnormality.
Lobbying to change social norms is itself a complex
and contested subject but I am limiting the scope of this discussion to forms of cruelty that are contrary to the mainstream culture in a location. (While acknowledging that there is always a degree of bias present in deciding which cultural norms are privileged and protected by law and which deviations are treated punitively.)
The recurring features of individuals that commit acts
of antisocial animal abuse are 1) innate or ontological disruption of empathy either in general or in relation to animals and/or 2) a failure to adopt a constructive social role or identity.
Causes: Moral Disengagement
Empathy is normally the  rst factor considered when attempting to understand factors make a person vulnerable to becoming an abuser. However the overall correlation between empathy levels and violent behavior is often around 10%, suggesting that many other factors modify this relationship. And in any context there is a point at which higher empathy levels causes higher levels of stress and dissociation, suggesting that there is an optimal range that is neither too high nor too low.
Perhaps more important than gross levels of empathy is how we apply or withhold empathy from different populations. Ongoing research has shown that violent
offenders often have gross levels of empathy within a normal range and some individuals that they care for. However they may draw very sharp distinctions between those worthy or care and those deemed to be “fair game” or to “deserve” violence. Social psychologist Albert Bandura termed this effect “moral disengagement” (a.k.a. neutralization).
Disengagement from animals is associated with strong beliefs that humans and animals are qualitatively different and that animals should be primarily conceptualized as personal property.[1] Conversely, education about animals and human-animal continuity, even without an explicit humane component, increases pro-welfare attitudes
and decreases xenophobia. As such, a commitment to social norms that oppose animal cruelty is at least as important as capacity to feel empathy towards animals when it comes to preventing the development of abusive motivations and behaviors.
Causes: Lack of Socialization
Emotions such as empathy, and its opposing force disgust, have a social regulation function. We are designed to feel empathy for individuals within our moral circle,
and to be willing to harm those who threaten us or other in-group members. Attempts to move animals within
a person’s moral circle need to use a consistent rule
that aligns with their world view. For example identifying animals as vulnerable and in need of protection aligns with a mature social role which involves protecting vulnerable individuals from “the bad guys” who would victimize them. However there will always be competing narratives that try to move some types of animals into the role of the villain and so outside the circle of protection (e.g. predators, vermin, dangerous breeds).[2]
And the protective domain of the moral circle rests upon the person being prosocial and inclined to adopt norms associated with their community or subculture--and the community having anti-cruelty norms. Individuals who are not prosocial may lack motivation to act according to any principle other than immediate self-protection or personal gain. This worldview is likely to emerge when people grow up in or enter a hostile environment where other individuals are largely a source of threat, or self- protection requires that they obtain violence-based status. For this reason it is logical to  nd that abusive attitudes to animals are more common in people that have been exposed to frequent and severe adverse experiences, especially during childhood. Observing animal abuse at a young age is a particular risk factor[3] especially when the behavior is being modelled by a family member or friend.[4]
Animal cruelty is more likely to be found in a context of conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder

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