Young children value the lives of animals more than adults do

If you had to save the life of a person or an animal, which would you choose? Most adults say they would save the person, but almost half of young children would prefer to save the animal instead, a study from Poland has found.

In another study by a research team from Harvard and Yale, children between 5 and 9 years old and adults were confronted with a series of hypothetical shipwreck situations in which they could save either people or dogs. In every scenario, the children were more likely than adults to save dogs rather than people.

Indeed, a third of the children said they would save one dog over one person. And the adults in the study were four times more likely than the kids to let 100 dogs die to save a single human.

Recently the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University had children and adults indicate their moral concern for different species. The researchers instructed the subjects:

“Let’s imagine for a minute that all the animals are sick. They have a disease that is going to kill them unless we do something about it. Thankfully, we have some medicine that can help the animals get better. However, we can’t save all the animals at the same time. We are going to make some difficult decisions. Which animal should we help first?”

The participants selected the animal they would save first. Then they ranked the other target species in the order in which they would give them the medicine, from first to the last.

Most of the young kids opted to give the medicine to the dog ahead of any other species—including humans. The older kids and adults, however, tended to rank humans first and dogs second.

For the most part, however, the differences between the age groups in the rankings were not large. The researchers wrote, “Overall, the rank order between the age groups were remarkably similar, with mammals at the top, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians in between.” (Interestingly, all three groups put bees in the middle of the pack, ahead of some vertebrates.)

The researchers concluded, “The way adults approach the valuation of animal life has its origins in early childhood, yet there is a gradual shift towards a greater appreciation of animal minds, a mentalistic notion of sentience, and the utility that animals offer humans.”