The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" July 2004
Research Theme:" How Learning More About Animals’ Mental Abilities Affects Our View of Animals "
Tohru Taniuchi
Lecturer in the Department of Human Studies, Faculty of Letters, Kanazawa University
Taniuchi specializes in areas of the psychology of learning and comparative psychology that have familiarized him with animals. Research in this specialty includes, for instance, the study of models of mouse behavior that could be useful in correcting problem behavior in humans, and studies of the cognizance and memory capabilities of various species.

“I often hear it said that our research is having an effect on the ways in which people view animals,” he explained. “They are, however, speaking from a visceral or experiential point of view, since there is no evidence from research to demonstrate it. Our aim in the first phase of this research project was to reveal the effect that acquiring knowledge about the mental faculties of animals can have on people’s attitudes toward and evaluations of animals. In the second phase, the objective was to grasp the basic attitudes and feelings people have toward animals, and to analyze the relationships between different attitudes.

“Subjects for the first phase of the project were selected from among university students in a course on comparative cognitive science. Before the course began, the subjects were asked to rate 60 animal species according to four criteria: mental capacity, sense of affinity, communicative capability, and utility. A second evaluation questionnaire was then administered after a three-day intensive lesson on cognitive development and visual perception among chimpanzees, and changes in attitude after the lesson were measured.

“In addition, a follow-up questionnaire was administered six months later in order to determine the persistence of the attitude changes. The results showed major increases in ratings for chimpanzees in the second questionnaire compared to the first for all four criteria, whereas no comparable rating increases were seen for any other species. These results can be seen as indicating that changes in attitudes toward specific animals can be brought about through acquisition of knowledge in concentrated lessons. The follow-up questionnaire resulted in an across-the-board reduction in ratings for all four criteria. Ratings for mental capacity, sense of affinity, and utility, however, maintained their higher levels relative to the initial pre-lesson questionnaire. These results indicate that acquisition of knowledge can bring about a relatively long-term transformation in attitudes.”

The greatest correlations of data in this first phase of the study linked the mental capacity criterion with utility, and communicative capability with sense of affinity. Assuming the existence of a causal relationship between these attitudes, probing more deeply into such links will reveal more about the psychology behind humans’ evaluation of animals. It was the purpose of the second phase of the project to look into these basic attitudes toward animals.

“We began the second phase with a lexicon of 89 vocabulary items commonly used to express attitudes and feelings toward animals. A statistical vetting of the initial lexicon restricting it to items representative of discreet conceptual factors without overlap resulted in a list of eight Japanese words and expressions, which translate as: ‘for food,’ ‘unsanitary,’ ‘sense of affinity,’ ‘risky,’ ‘intelligent,’ ‘diligent,’ ‘requiring protection’ and ‘possessing mystique.’ These eight items can be seen as representative of factors linked by relationships that can be studied. For instance, we can imagine a psychological inhibition on associating the item ‘for food’ with animals already associated with ‘sense of affinity’ and ‘requiring protection.’”

Taniuchi is currently working on clarifying the associations among these factors. Disputes and lack of understanding among people regarding animals are the cause of numerous problems. These problems include controversies over conservation efforts for specific animals and over living with pets in apartment and condominium buildings, as well as differing cultural conceptions of and attitudes toward animals. By elucidating the links among the eight conceptual factors, it should be possible to learn more about the underlying psychology and promote mutual understanding.