Student Showcase: Sarah Gradidge

Feature image credit: Johann

Researcher: Sarah Gradidge

Affiliation: Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK

Favourite animal: Elephants


Twitter: @SarahGradidge

What is the central topic or question of your PhD research?

My PhD research, supervised by Dr Magdalena Zawisza, Dr Annelie Harvey and Prof Daragh McDermott, explores speciesist attitudes towards different animals, particularly why people typically prefer dogs over pigs, even though dogs and pigs share many similarities, which should endear both species to us. I refer to this as “dog vs. pig pet speciesism.” My PhD has explored the causes of dog vs. pig pet speciesism, which includes self-relevance (whereby eating pork, ham, etc. may motivate people to view pigs negatively to alleviate their guilt), familiarity and similarity (whereby dogs are more familiar and people view dogs as more similar to us than pigs, which may improve people’s perceptions of dogs), and pet status (whereby dogs’ status as pets may confer positivity towards them). I am hopeful that my PhD research will inform future interventions to improve perceptions and behavioural intentions towards pigs.

Dogs and pigs share many similarities, so why do we typically prefer dogs over pigs? Photo credit: Matthias Zomer

What inspired you to pursue this topic?

I first went vegan predominantly because I was struck by how similar pigs’ behaviour (such as when they are playing) could be to dogs’ behaviour. I felt guilty that I could eat an animal which could behave in similar ways to my own much-loved family dog. At the time, I was beginning my MSc degree in psychology, so naturally I decided to do my MSc research project on this topic. My PhD was then an extension of my MSc research project.

What are some key findings from your work?

Firstly, I confirmed my MSc research by finding that dog vs. pig pet speciesism does indeed exist. As well, I found that people view dogs as warmer, more competent, more familiar, more similar to humans, more as pets and less as profit animals than pigs. I also found that self-relevance, familiarity, similarity and pet status predicted more flattering perceptions of dogs than pigs. To determine if these variables caused pet speciesism, instead of only predicting pet speciesism, I causally manipulated these variables to see if they affected perceptions and attitudes towards a novel animal.

It was surprisingly difficult to causally manipulate the familiarity of an animal – the mere exposure effect using photographs of the animal did not work, and neither did imagined contact. Pet status had some causal effects on perception (e.g., on warmth, whereby pet animals were viewed as warmer than non-pet animals), but it is not clear if pet status can explain differences in our behaviour towards pet vs. non-pet animals. Therefore, pet status may not fully explain why we treat pigs differently than dogs. I am still in the process of analysing all of my final PhD study results on similarity and self-relevance, so watch this space!

Dogs are seen as warmer, more competent and better pets than pigs. Photo credit: Helena Lopes

What theoretical perspectives have been useful to your work?

My PhD research utilises the Stereotype Content Model as a framework to measure pet speciesism. This model advances that our perceptions of others are split into two dimensions called warmth (how much we believe others have good or bad intentions) and competence (how capable we believe others are of enacting these intentions). This model has previously been shown to apply to perceptions of animals, not just perceptions of humans (e.g., Sevillano & Fiske, 2016). The Stereotype Content Model can easily be applied to predicted intergroup emotion and behaviour using an extension of the model called the behaviours from intergroup affect and stereotypes (BIAS) map. The BIAS map suggests that attributing greater warmth towards a group (or individual) promotes active helping behaviour, and less active harm, directed at the group. Attributing competence predicts greater passive help and less passive harm. There have been other theories which I have drawn on to identify possible causes of pet speciesism, including: motivated cognition and cognitive dissonance theory, intergroup contact theory and imagined contact theory and established theories of prejudice.

How would you like to see your work applied or being used? Are there implications for animal advocacy?

I would like future research to establish effective interventions to improve perceptions of pigs and behavioural intentions towards them, both by improving perceptions of pigs absolutely from pre- to post-intervention and relatively to dogs by reducing the speciesism gap. Theoretically, if we can remove the causes of pet speciesism, then pet speciesism itself can be reduced or even prevented. The most obvious, potential benefit of reducing or preventing pet speciesism would be reduced (pig) meat consumption. Reduced consumption of pork would, of course, help pigs themselves (a win in itself) but it could also have major environmental benefits. As meat consumption is a major contributor to pollution and climate change, any reduction in net emissions is highly welcome in order to decrease the warming of our planet. There may also be more subtle consequences of improving perceptions of pigs: People may be more willing to help pigs in need (e.g., by giving to charities that help farmed animals) and to advocate for pigs’ interests.

Meat production is a major contributor to climate change. Consumer reductions are needed to help slow the warming of our planet. Photo credit: dmncwndrlch

Any advice for new doctoral students doing work in this area?

I advise doctoral students to read widely across disciplines: Anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interaction) ties in to many ongoing issues today, including climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics and disease, food provision, habitat loss, and antibiotic resistance. Anthrozoology draws on disciplines such as psychology, sociology, animal behaviour, evolutionary biology, history, philosophy, and religious studies. A broad general knowledge base gives you a wider view of human-animal relationships, enables you to make more connections and insights, and helps you to better avoid misunderstandings!

What do you see as an important ‘next step’ for our field?

There are many possible exciting ‘next steps’, but one research avenue of great importance is investigating speciesism against a wider range of species, such as ‘pest’ animals (e.g., mice) or other wildlife, and developing interventions which improve perceptions of these species for animal welfare and/or conservation purposes. For example, it would be valuable to determine if the public perception of bats, which is typically very negative (especially since the beginning of the pandemic; Lu et al., 2021), can be improved. Currently, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies more than 200 bat species as under threat, so improving public support for bats is very important.

Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, perceptions of bats are typically very negative. Photo credit: Pixel-mixer

There is also emerging research on where speciesism originates from. For example, research indicates that children aged five to nine years old show less speciesism than adults (Wilks et al., 2021). It is therefore possible that speciesism may be culturally learned in childhood, which should be explored in future research. If we ever want to address speciesism, then it is important to understand how and when it develops so that it can potentially be prevented.

In your recent paper you found that people engage in more victim blaming of pigs than dogs and described this as a form of pet speciesism. What exactly is pet speciesism and why do people show this sort of bias?

As discussed earlier, pet speciesism is prejudice against typical non-pet animals (such as pigs), in favour of typical pet animals (such as dogs). Our paper (in press) was the first to highlight that people view pig victims more negatively than dog victims (e.g., derogate them more, forgive their perpetrators more readily), and show dog victims more empathy and willingness to help them. There are potentially a number of causes of pet speciesism (see earlier discussion), though more research is needed to firmly established the causal role of some variables (e.g., whether the familiarity of “pet” species enhances our view of them).

You recently published a structured literature review of the meat paradox. Based on your review, what are some of the (a) key triggers of dissonance about meat and (b) ways that people manage these feelings?

The meat paradox describes the paradoxical situation of caring about animals whilst also harming them (through meat consumption). Our review highlighted that some of the key triggers of the meat paradox are (a) reminding people of the animal origins of meat, (b) labelling an animal as ‘consumable’ or ‘edible’, and (c) reminding people of the animal suffering involved in meat production. These triggers cause cognitive dissonance – that uncomfortable feeling which occurs when there is a disconnect between a person’s values (in this case, their desire to not hurt animals) and their behaviour (in this case, meat consumption, which inevitably harms animals). People resolve this cognitive dissonance using ‘strategies’ – the most common of these strategies include denying that ‘food’ animals have human characteristics (e.g., denying that these animals are capable of having a mind), the 4Ns which means justifying food as ‘natural’, ‘nice’, ‘normal’ or ‘necessary’, and denying that meat consumption has negative effects. All of these are so-called ‘direct’ strategies which deal with the dissonance head-on. People may also use indirect strategies, such as avoidance, whereby they avoid thinking about where meat comes from or avoid thinking about meat’s negative consequences.

The meat paradox refers to a state where people care for and yet eat animals. Photo credit: yairventuraf

What was one of the most surprising things that you found whilst reviewing this body of work?

Previous narrative reviews of the meat paradox have presented much evidence in favour of the meat paradox, so it was surprising to find three articles which suggested the meat paradox was not occurring. The review highlighted that most current evidence in favour of the meat paradox is indirect – that is, cognitive dissonance is inferred from behaviours, like denying mind to animals, and the results can be interpreted in favour of the meat paradox, but other explanations of the results are also possible. We need more direct research in the future which tests the meat paradox model in full – not just measuring triggers and strategies, but also measuring cognitive dissonance itself. As suggested in our paper, these measurements of cognitive dissonance may be explicit (e.g., expressed using self-report), which can be vulnerable to participant bias, or they may be implicit, such as skin conductance response. We particularly need more valid implicit measures of cognitive dissonance, similar to the Implicit Association Test, which was developed to measure implicit prejudice.

Key Papers by Sarah Gradidge

Gradidge, S., & Harvey, A., Mcdermott, D., & Zawisza, M. (2021). Humankind’s best friend vs humankind’s best food: Perceptions of identifiable dog vs. pig victims (pre-print).

Gradidge, S., Zawisza, M., Harvey, A. J. & McDermott, D. T., 2021. A structured literature review of the meat paradoxSocial Psychological Bulletin, 16(3), 1-26.

Gradidge, S., Zawisza, M., 2021. Different types of speciesismThe Psychologist.

Gradidge, S., Zawisza, M., 2020. Toward a non-anthropocentric view on the environment and animal welfare: Possible psychological interventions. Animal Sentience, 27(23).

Gradidge, S., Zawisza, M., 2019. Why factual appeals about the abilities of sheep may fail. Animal Sentience, 25(42).

Authors: Rebecca Gregson & Jared Piazza

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