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Animal Abuse and Empathy in Children

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       Animal Abuse
            and
         Empathy
        in Children
             Research conducted by:
Michelle Hounslow, Tanis Johnson, Aimie Kathan and
                   Holly Pound

   In collaboration with Mount Royal University
          and the Calgary Humane Society

                  April 19, 2010
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Table of contents

Introduction .................................................................................................................................... 3
Research Question .......................................................................................................................... 4
Literature Review ............................................................................................................................ 4
   The Link between Social and Emotional Literacy in Children and Animal/Domestic Violence ................ 5
   Impacts of Violence................................................................................................................................... 5
   Empathy and the Animal-Human Bond .................................................................................................... 7
   Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse .................................................................................................... 10
   Conclusion ............................................................................................................................................... 15
Research Methods ........................................................................................................................ 16
   Sample..................................................................................................................................................... 16
   Procedures .............................................................................................................................................. 17
   Measures................................................................................................................................................. 18
   Data Collection Procedures..................................................................................................................... 18
   Challenges ............................................................................................................................................... 19
   Updated Study ........................................................................................................................................ 20
Data Analysis ..................................................................................................................................20
   The need for two sample groups ............................................................................................................ 20
   Age Relevance ......................................................................................................................................... 21
   Boat’s Survey for the Adult Population .................................................................................................. 21
   Lack of Correlations ................................................................................................................................ 23
Discussion.......................................................................................................................................24
   Key Learning ............................................................................................................................................ 24
   Recommendations .................................................................................................................................. 25
Appendices.....................................................................................................................................27
   Appendix A - Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescent ................................................................ 27
   Appendix B - Boat’s Inventory on Animal-Related Experiences ............................................................. 28
References .....................................................................................................................................34
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                                         Introduction
       The Calgary Humane Society (CHS) is an agency that does more than shelter homeless

animals; they protect, educate and transform the lives of humans and their animal companions.

CHS provides many programs including Humane Education outreach programs to educate the

public and professionals on the human-animal bond, humane treatment of animals and the

connection between interpersonal violence and animal abuse. Through meetings and

observations of programs, we saw firsthand how the programs help develop skills, knowledge

and pro-social behaviour when it comes to humane animal treatment.

       CHS asked students in CHST 4403 (Community-Based Research) at Mount Royal

University to explore how children in Calgary are affected by perpetrating or witnessing animal

abuse from a parental figure and how this affects their ability to empathize with humans and

animals. Research of this type may be helpful to the Humane Education programs because it

relates to social and emotional literacy, helps to identify markers for improvement and helps to

provide information surrounding building resiliency in children who may have experienced

animal abuse.

       The Calgary Humane Society hopes to conduct sufficient research to determine if there is

a need for a new program that will supplement their existing programs. The new program is one

that will teach social-emotional literacy to children who have either witnessed animal abuse or

who have perpetrated animal abuse themselves. The program aims to provide language and

skills that children can use to appropriately deal with aggression, anger and emotional expression

in general. It is important to educate children on the prevention of animal cruelty and violence

and teach constructive emotional release instead of destructive emotional release. This is

especially important when we examine the development and overall importance of a strong
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animal-human bond. We chose to look at what kind of an impact we could have on the

community if we gathered research to determine if there is a link between animal abuse,

perpetrated by both parental figures as well as by youth, and a lack of empathy development in

these youth.

       We hoped to provide up-to-date education surrounding animal neglect and cruelty. Our

intention was to provide data and information that would advance the education tools that

already exist within the Humane Education programs.

                                      Research Question

“How does exposure to animal abuse affect a child's ability to empathize with animals and
people?”

                                      Literature Review
       With this research question in mind, we created three themes for our literature review that

guided our research more efficiently. Our themes in this literature review are, The Link between

Social and Emotional Literacy in Children and Animal/Domestic Violence; Empathy and the

Animal-Human Bond; and Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse.

       Our themes for this literature review were chosen to highlight the specific factors that

will directly influence the success of the creation of a program that targets the social-emotional

development of youth. These factors include exposure to domestic violence, exposure to animal

abuse, perpetrating animal abuse, lack of social and emotional development, lack of skills and

language to express emotions, the importance of the human-animal bond, and the affect that

living with violence and abuse has on children’s social-emotional development.
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The Link between Social and Emotional Literacy in Children and Animal/Domestic
Violence

         First, it is important to define social and emotional literacy. Social and emotional literacy

is the ability to not only empathize with others but also to gain the skills that allow for personal

regulation and expression of emotional feelings (Connor et al, 2008). Conner et al (2008) state

that “emotional intelligence includes such components as self-awareness, social awareness, self-

management, responsible decision making, and relationship skills” (p. 52).

         The purpose of this section is to explain the impact on children who are victims of

domestic violence. It will also establish an understanding of the importance of social and

emotional literacy in children who are victims of domestic violence. Social and emotional

literacy is important because it is the ability to self-regulate emotional triggers (Connor et al,

2008).

         The main purpose of the link between abuse and social and emotional literacy is to help

the programs at the Calgary Humane Society incorporate the need for social and emotional

literacy. The creators of the program hope to be able to teach social and emotional literacy to

children who are victims of violence and provide them with the tools needed to regulate

emotions. Another hope is to teach constructive emotional release and decrease destructive

emotional and aggressive behaviour.

Impacts of Violence
      Domestic violence has various impacts on those who witness it, but more specifically, it

can be detrimental to the development of a child’s ability to control emotion. A child witnessing

domestic violence may be put in the middle of a dispute with psychological implications and it

can damage the child both socially and emotionally. Kitzmann (2007) states that, “Children are

at physical risk when they intervene in their parents' fights or accidentally get caught in the
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"crossfire." (p. 1). Kitzmann further states that “these children may show inappropriate attitudes

about violence as a means of resolving conflict, greater willingness to use violence themselves

and stronger beliefs about being responsible for their parents' conflicts.” (p. 1).

       It is important to note that if children who witness domestic violence are learning to

accept violence as a means for conflict resolution and that violence is acceptable when dealing

with aggressive feelings that it could be safe to say that there is a direct link between witnessing

domestic violence and social and emotional ineptitude. McIntosh (2004) explores how it seems

clear that “injury to animals is one way that a child signals that something is wrong” (p. 5).

Domestic violence is a reoccurring factor in the threat of animal cruelty either perpetrated by an

adult parental figure or perpetrated by a child. To further demonstrate the effects of animal

cruelty on a child’s social and emotional literacy, McIntosh, in conjunction with the YWCA

Family Violence Prevention Centre, the Sheriff King Home and the Brenda Strafford Centre for

the Prevention of Family Violence, conducted a study on the effects of animal cruelty in a

household with domestic violence. One of the research questions asked the mothers’ opinions of

how the harm to the family animal affected their child. One mother stated “(my son is) more

hurtful to others, withdraw(n), emotional” and another noted that her son, who when aged four

witnessed his father shoot his dog , is now showing similar traits and has “total disregard towards

life, even humans” (McIntosh et al, 2004). This demonstrates the damaging effects on a child

who not only witnesses domestic violence but also suffers the trauma of losing a pet or

witnessing a pet being harmed or killed.

       Another participant of the study stated that her children are rough with animals because

of what they see on a normal basis (McIntosh, 2004). These statements are further evidence that

a child’s inability to cope emotionally with the loss of a pet due to violence creates a breeding
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ground for poor regulation of emotions. It also supports the eventual understanding that the

behaviour being modeled in the home is an acceptable choice for behaviour outside of the home.

The emotional and social competence of the child seems to be skewed due to the psychological

trauma experienced by the child.

        Furthermore, Kitzmann (2007, p. 3) stated

        ....of 118 empirical studies examining the psychosocial adjustment of child witnesses to

      domestic violence. Results showed that 63% of child witnesses were faring more poorly

      than the average child who had not been exposed to inter-parental violence… and problems

      included aggression, anxiety, difficulties with peers and academic problems, all to similar

      degrees.

      Though there is research that does connect family violence and animal cruelty to the

inability of the child to relate socially and emotionally, it is still fair to say that research is

lacking for this specific area of study. Our hope is that our research will create another

reliable source of information surrounding the topic and relation of social and emotional

literacy in children as related to domestic and animal violence. It should also be noted that

while reading the McIntosh et al (2004) study, it seems to be very similar to the kind of

research we will be conducting and we may be able to use it as a guiding tool.

Empathy and the Animal-Human Bond
     Pets play a vital role in the lives of children. They provide unconditional love,

opportunities for caring and nurturing, healing and calming effects. Pets can also positively

influence the way children interact with society and how they view themselves. The relationship

or bond between children and pets is powerful and profound. This has been examined by experts

in a number of papers identifying the important role pets play in the healthy development of

children.
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         The animal-human relationship is distinguished through the deep feelings of care and

love (Robin & Bensel, 1985, as cited in Beck, 2003). The animal-human bond allows children to

acquire nurturing skills by caring for pets. Animals motivate and shape how children see the

world while giving them unconditional love and acceptance. Companionship with pets allows for

healthy emotional development within children’s lives.

         Beck (2003) identified how children learn to nurture by caring for pets. It explores the

importance for male children to have this opportunity to nurture, as there is a lack of games for

boys that introduce caring and nurturing within our society. It was noted that animals play a very

vital role in society around motivating and shaping how children see the world (Beck, Melson,

da Costa, & Liu, 2001; Katcher & Wilkins, 2000; Rud & Beck, 1999, 2000 as cited in Beck,

2003).

         As noted by Robin & Bensel (1985), companion animals play an important role in the

healthy emotional development of children. Children develop the basic notion of trust and self-

esteem as well as a sense of responsibility. Children gain competence and feelings of empathy

towards others through companionship with animals. It was also identified that by having a

consistency in animal companionship children may develop an inhibiting effect towards mental

disturbances.

         Robin & Bensel (1985) noted that allowing children the experience to care and be

responsible for a pet developed responsible pet ownership. He also says that successfully caring

for the pet will enhance the child’s sense of importance and being needed. Robin & Bensel

(1985) also identifies the need children have for empathetic listening and the connection with

others and animals offer this naturally created empathy resulting in them being such great

companions.
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       This research has shown that the key factor between the relationship of animal and child

is the acceptance and unconditional love the animal has for the child. The animal accepts the

child for who they are and does not suggest any criticism or feedback (Levinson, 1969, 1972;

Neck & Katcher, 1983, as cited in Robin & Bensel, 1985).

       The bond between animals and humans alters between the ages of the individuals.

Adolescents develop a changing relationship with their pets as a result of viewing pets as

transitional objects. Within this stage, pets can become confidantes, protectors, or a status

symbol (Fogle, 1983, as cited in Robin & Bensel, 1985). When viewing the relationship between

children and their pets it is noted that their bond is enhanced through animate qualities. Bowlby

(1969) states that the “attachment behaviours of caring and proximity between children and their

pets create an alive reciprocating alliance” (p. 66).

       When viewing the animal as a transitional object (Levinson, 1972, as cited in Robin &

Bensel, 1985) it is worthy to note that this describes bridging the gap between self and other. The

animal is able to provide non-judgmental interaction (Subman, 1981; Levinson, 1967, as cited in

Robin & Bensel, 1985), and support as the child explores new boundaries and peer interaction

(Feldman, 1978, as cited in Robin & Bensel, 1985).

       Robin & Bensel (1985) observed that a wide range of people, including children, used the

animals to develop a sense of security and intimacy. It was suggested that the presence of

animals has a calming and relaxing effect on people. It was stated that animals influence the

effectiveness in reducing the response to stressors while decreasing ambient blood pressure in

mild hypertensives.

       Crawford, et al. (2006) identifies that humans gain psychological benefits from their

companionship with their animals, though they do state that the findings have not been consistent
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(Watson & Weinstein, 1993, as cited in Crawford, et al., 2006). Research has identified the

reduction of stress and increase in relaxation (Kidd & Kidd, 1999, as cited in Crawford, et al.,

2006).

         Burke (2001) identifies the need to use empathy development treatment when working

with adolescent sex offenders. The National Task Force on Juvenile Sexual Offending (1993)

stated that the treatment should include the development of empathy for the victim and their

family. It has been observed that adolescent sex offenders are lacking empathy and that this skill

is acquired through normal socialization within early adolescence (Coleman & Hendry, 1990, as

cited in Burke, 2001). Through developing this type of empathy, treatment allows the adolescent

sex offender to understand the impact that their actions had on others, and the pain that they

caused. It will also allow the adolescent sex offender to express any feelings of remorse for their

actions (Briggs, Doyle, Gooch, & Kennington, 1998, p. 199, as cited in Burke, 2001).

         The research that was developed around the importance of empathy and the animal-

human bond explores the benefits and growth that children experience. Animals influence how

children see the world, and how they feel competent, important, and support a sense of

belonging. It is important not to underestimate the power of animals and the change that they can

bring forward to the healthy development of children’s emotions.

         Because of the distinct link between an animal-human bond and the positive effects this

relationship has, it is important to address the need for Social-Emotional Literacy in youth. By

teaching these skills, prevention of future abuse and harm is created and can minimize the

damage done to and by youth in the cases of domestic violence and animal abuse.

Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse
     Recent research has shown that there is a direct correlation between domestic violence

and animal abuse (Currie, 2006). Children who are exposed to domestic violence and animal
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abuse within their home are more likely to start abusing animals themselves. Studies have

shown that children exposed to violence are more likely to abuse, while other children who are

not exposed to violence have a significantly lower chance of abusing (Thompson & Gullone,

2006).

         Domestic violence can be defined as “involving sexual assaults, verbal assaults such as

insults and swearing, every type of emotional abuse, and physical abuse. The violence can vary

in frequency, duration and intensity” (Raynor & Saint-Onge, 2007, pg 3). A survey by the

Canadian Women’s Foundation showed that spousal violence makes up the single largest group

of convictions involving violence in Canada. Every minute of every day, a Canadian woman or

child is being abused (Canadian Women’s Foundation, n.d.). In many cases, domestic abuse

includes animal abuse because it is also another way of tormenting and abusing your spouse or

family members. Pets are an important part of many families and in many cases are thought of as

another child or family member. Because pets are loved this much within many families, abusing

the pet is another way of having power and control over a situation in which one is trying to

prove that they are boss. Many families will not leave their homes unless they can bring their pet

as well because leaving their pet in harm’s way is not a desirable option (Davies, 2009).

         Research has shown that animal abuse is a branch of the spectrum of domestic abuse

(Currie, 2006). Threatening to harm or actually harming an animal is, in many cases, a form of

control and seeking power over family members or animals within the home (Thompson &

Gullone, 2006). Animal abuse can be defined as, “crime in inflicting physical pain, suffering, or

death, on an animal, usually a tame one, beyond the necessity of normal discipline. It can include

neglect that is so monstrous (no food or water), that the animal has suffered, died, or been put in

immediate danger of death” (Legal Dictionary, 2009).
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       Chances are that a child living in a home with domestic violence may have violence and

abuse directly aimed at them. A survey completed in 1988-1998 showed that children who live in

a home with domestic violence were also victims of physical abuse themselves (Raynor & Saint-

Onge, 2007, p 3). Abuse can be defined as “violence towards a child that includes physical,

sexual, and/or emotional aspects” (Clark, 2004, p 54). Abuse can cause both long-term and short-

term effects on the child. Children who are abused may react in different ways depending on

what type of abuse they are subjected to. Children who were subjected to physical abuse by their

parents or loved ones may have behaviours as follows: extreme mood swings, aggressive

behaviours, developmental delays, substance or alcohol abuse issues, exhibit extreme violent

behaviour, poor anger management and suicide attempts (Clark, 2004, p 56-58). Children who

are physically abused may or may not express these behavioural traits, but as listed above, one of

the traits is extreme violent behaviour. Having extreme violent behaviours because of abuse may

lead a child to abuse animals. Children who are emotionally or psychologically abused usually

have behavioural traits such as self-destructive behaviour, highly aggressive behaviour, cruelty

to others, and/or having a lag in mental and emotional development. These behavioural traits

may also appear in advance of that child abusing animals (Clark, 2004, p 56-58).

       Research studies have shown that there is in fact a direct correlation between domestic

violence and abuse and children who abuse animals (Thompson & Gullone, 2006, p. 2). Children

who are in a household with violence suffer the consequences and many begin to model the

behaviour that they are seeing. Most children see their homes and parents as a safe place to be

where they can be themselves and always be protected. Because some children are exposed to

violent scenarios within their family life, this interrupts the parenting given from parents or

guardians and often increases risk of behavioural, emotional, and cognitive difficulties. One of
                                                                                                     13


the biggest consequences of domestic violence on the child is that often conduct disorder

becomes apparent within the child (Currie, 2006, p 427). Conduct disorder is one of the most

common psychiatric disorders among children and young adults. A common trait of this disorder

is that children will have great difficulty following rules and will act in socially inappropriate

ways (Association of Chief Psychologists, 2001). Many times, other children, peers, and family

members see them as “bad” or “troublesome” children. Children who have Conduct Disorder

may express anger; verbal and physical aggression with other children, adults and animals;

destruction of property; deceitfulness and theft; and serious breaking of rules (Association of

Chief Psychologists, 2001).

       A study in 1998 interviewed 22 women who were staying in shelters because their

partners were abusing them. Of those 22 women, approximately 32% of them said that they had

a child who had abused or killed a family pet. The study showed that children who were exposed

to domestic violence were more likely to kill or abuse their family pet, or any other pet than a

child who had not been exposed to domestic violence (Currie, 2006). One of the earliest

indicators of Conduct Disorder is violence and aggression towards animals. It is one of the main

symptoms of Conduct Disorder that occurs at an average of about seven years old (Association

of Chief Psychologists, 2001). It has been noticed that younger children had a noticeably higher

rate of being cruel towards animals than youth or young adults. One of the main reasons that

children are aggressive towards animals is because they model what they see their parents do and

because they are able to have more control over an animal. Abusive parents teach their children

that they can achieve power and control over situations that may in other circumstances be

beyond their control (Currie, 2006). Children learn from watching their parents and guardians

role model and seeing a parent use violence to achieve power and control teaches them that when
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they feel they need control over a situation, they can use aggression and violence. Children who

live within homes that contain violence may feel like they have no control over the situation.

Because of this, they need an outlet where they can release their anger. Children will turn to

animals to exert their power and control because they are less likely to get caught and punished

than if they were to abuse other humans (Currie, 2006, pg 430-431).

       Children who start abusing animals may end up committing more violent crimes against

other humans later. Famous cases of serial killers show that as children a lot of them had been

cruel to animals. Two very famous cases of serial killers are Jeffery Dahmer and Theodore

Bundy. Their stories show that their violent and abusive behaviour started out when they were

children and were subjected to abuse themselves and started being cruel towards animals

(Tallichet & Hensley, 2004). As mentioned above, children can suffer major consequences of

witnessing domestic abuse and also being abused themselves. Research shows that children

exposed to domestic and animal violence have a harder time being empathetic. Children who

have a low level of empathy have a hard time understanding the consequences of being cruel

towards an animal or another human being (Tallichet & Hensley, 2004, pg 301-307).

       Having a program set up to help children who have been exposed to domestic violence

would help them learn empathy and better ways to control and express their emotions. Programs

to support children may stop the cycle of violence because they would learn that animal abuse

and abuse towards humans is wrong and there are other ways to express their emotions about

issues in their home life.
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Conclusion
      We chose our themes based on their support of the need for a program that builds and

enhances children’s abilities to express their emotions in a positive, pro-social way. The

research completed on Social-Emotional Literacy and the effect that domestic violence has on

children’s abilities to express themselves shows that children do struggle with the effects of

domestic and animal abuse. There is evidence that children would in fact benefit from a program

that teaches social-emotional literacy. The benefits of a program like this would reach not only

the children themselves but also the other children, people and animals around them.

       Social-Emotional Literacy Programs would strengthen the animal-human bond by

enforcing the vital relationship that humans, and more specifically children, have with their

animals. It would strengthen the knowledge that an animal is a creature to be cared for and loved

and would decrease the chance of a child causing an animal harm.

       Often a child acts out in a violent manner because of what they have seen their adult role

models do. While a Social-Emotional Literacy program would not specifically target the adult

perpetrators, it would benefit the community by teaching appropriate treatment of animals and

expression of feelings. The strength of this program is in the preventative nature of this kind of

education. While children are unfortunately still exposed to domestic and animal abuse, in a

program that enhances Social-Emotional Literacy, these children are given the skills and

language to avoid perpetrating such behaviour.

       This is a life-long learning piece that will hopefully prevent these children and youth

from increasing the amount of domestic and animal abuse that is rampant in our society. The

prevalence of damaging behaviour and the effects that witnessing this behaviour have on youth

are support for further research on this topic that can hopefully lead to the creation of a program

that will prevent this behaviour from being carried on to further generations.
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                                          Research Methods
Sample
      Our projected population was to be children aged nine to fifteen years, male and female,

living in a residential care program. This kind of setting was chosen because all children in

residential care will be accompanied by a child and youth counsellor. All children would require

parent/guardian consent and would be excluded from the study if it was not possible to acquire

this consent. Children would have been excluded from the study if there was concern from the

residential counsellors that it is not appropriate for them to participate. Our projected sample size

was between 15-20 children and was based on the number of children who may be present in a

single residential program. We had hoped to conduct the study with this projected population;

however, due to un-foreseen complications with acquiring this projected population the study

had to be changed. Time constraints were the biggest factor in the change of the study. The

study’s new population was 17 classmates in the Bachelors of Applied Child Studies Degree at

Mount Royal University. All of the students were age 18 and older.

        There were no specific characteristics required of our participants. The only specific

commonality of our participants was that they would have all been in a residential care home

setting. We would have obtained consent from the parent/guardians first, then verbal assent from

the children themselves as to whether they want to participate in the research. We would either

have the children's social worker or their key worker (youth counsellor) present while conducting

the interviews and surveys to make sure the children are more comfortable and to be present in

case of emotional reactions. Interviews and surveys would have been conducted individually in a

safe comfortable area in the program. The children would have had the opportunity to express

interest in participating in the study.

        In order to have protected the rights of the children participating:
                                                                                                      17


                  1) Children would have been provided with all the information about the study

                  2) Children would have been invited to discuss their participation with their key

                  workers

                  3) Consent forms would have been sent to parents/guardians or social workers

                  4) Researchers would have obtained verbal assent before beginning the interviews

By ensuring that the key worker was with the child in the room during the interviews, any

disclosures would be addressed by the key worker. However, if at any point during the interview

the child was uncomfortable or distressed the interview would have been terminated

immediately. The researchers would have taken great care when interviewing the children and

ensure signs of discomfort or distress are recognized and addressed appropriately (i.e. interview

is terminated).

Procedures
Research design

       If the study had carried forward as anticipated we would have used two tools with each

participant. The two tools that would have been used were the Index of Empathy for Children

and Adolescents and Boat's Animal-Related Experiences.

       One researcher would have presented the questions from the interviews and surveys

while the other three researchers would have recorded the individual’s answers and responses.

Each participant would have sat with one researcher who would have recorded their individual

answers on their questionnaires. The child would have been able to change their answers at any

time and the previous answer would have been destroyed. Again, due to un-foreseen

complications the study was changed as was the projected population. We stapled the Index of

Empathy together with the Boats Animal-Related Experiences and distributed them to the 17
                                                                                                    18


classmates, to be completed anonymously and placed in a drop box. We then collected the

surveys.

Measures
Empathy Assessment: (Taken From http://www.tru.ca/faculty/wlroberts/bryant.pdf)

Title: Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents

Author: Barbara Bryant, University of California, Professor of Human Development



Boat's Inventory on Animal-Related Experiences: (Loar, L. Coleman, L. (2004). Boat’s

Inventory on Animal-Related Experiences. Teaching Empathy: Animal-Assisted Therapy

Programs for Children and Families Exposed to Violence. (pp.128-132). Latham

foundation Publication)

Title: Boat’s Inventory on Animal-Related Experiences

Author: Barbara Boat of the Child trauma Centre, University of Cincinnati

Data Collection Procedures
      The first tool we used is an Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents, an empathy

assessment (Bryant, 1982) created by Barbara Bryant, a Professor of Human Development at the

University of California. The assessment consisted of 22 basic yes or no questions. It was scored

with a numerical system, in which a score of one is given for a ‘yes’ answer and a score of zero

is given for a ‘no’ answer. The results are then calculated and a score is derived. It was designed

to give the researcher a base outlook on the child’s ability to empathize with a certain situation,

task or person. As researchers, we used this specific empathy test to obtain results to correlate

with data from the second assessment tool.

       The empathy assessment was to be the first assessment we administered in order to

establish comfort and to ensure their answers would not be influenced by the questions from the
                                                                                                   19


second tool. The questions are closed and are not leading but simply require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’

answer to avoid confusion.

               The second assessment tool was Boat's Inventory on Animal-Related Experiences

(Boat, 2004), created by Barbara Boat of the Child Trauma Centre at the University of

Cincinnati. This assessment consists of a series of questions relating to animal experiences. The

questions gave us the background information regarding the child’s (or in this case, adult’s)

personal and familial experiences with animals. It also helped us to establish if a connection

exists between the child (adult) and an animal and provide further insight into the child’s

(adult’s) ability to empathize and respond either negatively or positively to animals. This data

did not show if a specific correlation exists between the ability to empathize and the occurrence

of witnessing or perpetrating animal abuse.



Challenges
      Due to time restrictions, the study had to change. There was not enough time to secure

the participation of a residential program. We received conditional approval from the Mount

Royal University Human Research Ethics Board (HREB); however, without a letter of support

from an agency with a suitable residential program, we were unable to receive full board

approval. Due to time restriction we were unable to proceed with a residential program’s ethics

approval process and therefore had to withdraw our HREB application and alter the study.

       There was also a concern that since the children who would be asked to participate in the

study being under permanent or temporary guardianship orders, we would need to have allotted a

certain amount of time to receive consent back from the legal guardians of each child. Again,

time restrictions would not permit us to continue with the study.
                                                                                                       20


Updated Study
      Since the time frame that we were working within was so limiting, we had to change the

direction of the study. We decided to test the validity of the tools in a full pilot program. The

study was conducted on a sample of 17 class members in the Community-Based Research class,

CHST 4403, from the Bachelor of Applied Child Studies Degree program. The students were all

over the age of 18 and therefore did not need parent/guardian consent. Due to the change in study

and the use of our classmates, we no longer needed HREB approval to conduct the study. The

piloting of the study on our classmates was considered a classroom learning activity rather than a

research study. We used Boat’s Inventory on Animal-Related Experiences (Boat, 2004) and An

Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents (Bryant, 1982). The students were given the

two tests and asked to fill them out anonymously. We then took the two tools to Natalie O’Toole,

a statistician in the library at Mount Royal University for analysis, hoping to determine if there

was a correlation between the two surveys.

                                          Data Analysis
The need for two sample groups
      One important thing to note is that the Index of Empathy cannot be accurate unless, upon

analyzing the data, a factor analysis is conducted. A factor analysis is described as “a statistical

approach that can be used to analyze interrelationships among a large number of variables and to

explain these variables in terms of their common underlying dimensions” (Multivariate Statistics,

n.d.). In order to do a factor analysis we needed two sample populations to complete the

assessment in order to find the interrelationship between the two groups.

       Since we only used one sample group, we could not do a factor analysis and the results of

the Index of Empathy were inconclusive and unusable. In retrospect, the need for two sample

populations to complete the Index of Empathy test in order to do a factor analysis, which is an

interrelationship, suggests that researchers should choose a different empathy test for further
                                                                                                   21


research. The empathy tool measures empathy in an individual and is not meant to be used to

find interrelationships between empathy in two different population samples.

Age Relevance
      Bryant’s Index of Empathy test was designed to be used on elementary and middle school

aged children; however, because this population was not available to conduct the research, the

tools being used on an adult population resulted in unusable data.

        The sample size consisted of 17 female students all 18 and older. This was an issue due

to the fact that it is possible that school aged children may be more inclined to give an honest

answer to the questions pertaining to behaviour and animal abuse. Children are less likely to

produce answers based on societal views of appropriateness, and fear of what others may

interpret from their answers, whereas adults may be more inclined to change their answers based

on what they view as an appropriate response.

       We could not correlate the Index of Empathy and the Boat’s Survey because they do not

have the same scoring system. This made it difficult to find any relatable data from the two tools.

Boat’s Survey for the Adult Population
   Boat’s Survey gave data regarding animal related experiences, but did not provide the desired

correlation to the Index of Empathy. The survey consisted of a number of questions that related

specifically to the participants feelings and experiences with animals. These experiences

consisted of:

   •   Animal abuse

   •   Animal cruelty and neglect

   •   Owning an animal

   •   Feelings surrounding the death of an animal

   •   Animal sexual abuse
                                                                                                    22


   •   Witnessing or perpetrating any of the above

The survey provides accurate data even though the age of the sample size changed because it is

based on animal related experiences of a person of any age. Boat’s Survey did produce some

compelling answers based on animal related experiences from the adult population and provided

insight into emotions surrounding animal experiences. An example of this is:

Q: Does seeing “roadkill” bother you?

       If so how much? (please circle)

               a. Just a little        b. Somewhat            c. A lot

       What about the “roadkill” bothers you? (Loar, Coleman, 2004)

Answer #1: Road Kill bothers me very much because I think about the pain and suffering the

animal went through. It makes me very sad.

Answer #2: Roadkill doesn’t bother me. I grew up on a farm, as well as growing up hunting, so

dead animals are just a part of the way I grew up. It’s a part of life.

       Based on the answers above, it was very interesting to note how different people feel

about animals based on their background, culture, and overall experience with animals. This

question alone could be a catalyst for discovering that animal abuse and empathy can be

connected but can also be skewed based on childhood experiences with animals. The person who

wrote answer one would obviously appear to have a great empathy towards animals, and it is

probably, great empathy in general. However, the person who wrote answer 2 found animals

dying to be a part of her culture, growing up on a farm and hunting, perhaps decreased her

sensitivity towards certain situations regarding animals (such as roadkill); however, it does not

indicate a direct correlation with decreased empathy.
                                                                                                   23


However, like Bryant’s Index of Empathy, using an adult population may conflict the results

due to the likelihood that an adult may be inclined to skew their answers based on

appropriateness. We took care to collect data anonymously in order to limit the possibilities of

biased or false results.

Lack of Correlations
      The Index of Empathy is scored with a numerical system, in which a score of one is given

for a ‘yes’ answer and a score of zero is given for a ‘no’ answer. Boat’s Survey did not have a

scoring scale and consisted of a series of yes and no questions, multiple choices, and the

opportunity for open ended responses. As mentioned previously, due to the difference in the

scoring mechanisms for each tool, it was impossible to statistically analyze the data and provide

a possible correlation between the responses of the two tools. The inability to conduct a factor

analysis for the Index of Empathy proved to be a significant problem when measuring empathy

for each participant. Without an accurate measure of empathy in each participant, we had no way

of correlating animal abuse and empathy.

         If the Index of Empathy’s instructions had been more clear, we could have collected data

from two sample groups of school-aged children and done a factor analysis on the results and the

data would have been valid. However, due to the inability to correlate the Index of Empathy with

the Boat’s Survey the data still would have been inconclusive. The inaccuracies and lack of

possible correlations between the two tools used in the study made it impossible to either prove

or disprove the possibility of there being a relationship between levels of empathy and animal

abuse.
                                                                                                 24




                                            Discussion

Key Learning

       As mentioned earlier in our report, we faced many challenges throughout our research

project. As we entered 2010, the Calgary Humane Society faced budget cuts and as a result, a

particularly important program, the Violence Prevention Program was cut. With the loss of the

program, the CHS lost a staff member who was also a key mentor for us in our research project.

With this change of staff and programming, our project headed a slightly different way, under

the guidance of our remaining mentor.

       We experienced a particularly difficult Human Research Ethics Board (HREB)

application process with Mount Royal University. Because we were hoping to work with a

particularly vulnerable population on the subject of animal abuse and empathy in children, our

application was considered high risk and required multiple revisions. During this process, we

had the opportunity to learn about ethics; working with vulnerable populations; creating and

maintaining professional communications with community agencies; the creation of forms;

evaluation of tools; protection of psychological health in research participants; and

confidentiality. Above all else, we believe we learned the value of teamwork during the

professional creation of written and visual materials.

       Another positive result of the process we went through was the evaluation of the tools we

planned to use. We learned that the empathy test and the questionnaire on animal-related

experiences were not the ideal tools to use with the youth we intended as our research

participants. Piloting the tools on our adult classmates may not have provided us with the results

we desired but it allowed us to determine that further investigation into appropriate and effective

tools is necessary before furthering this type of research.
                                                                                                   25


       We all felt passionately about the research topic we chose to pursue. The importance of

eliminating animal abuse or at very least minimizing instances stands out to us as a main reason

for our interest in this topic. With ample time, proper tools, an appropriate population sample

and the continued desire to provide research, perhaps the data needed to determine whether there

is a need for a social-emotional literacy program will emerge.

Recommendations

   1. Have a substantial timeline to achieve all clearances needed and get consent forms

       from legal guardians.

               Since this research project is high-risk, there needs to be ample time to achieve

       HREB clearance (which we were able to do), agency clearance, and consent from legal

       guardians of children and youth participating in the study. Because we were able to

       achieve HREB clearance, the next step would be to get clearance from the agency

       involved in the study. It is a high-risk study and because of that, takes time to get

       through ethics applications. After clearance of all ethics applications, time needs to be

       allocated to receive consent forms from legal guardians of participants. If the study is to

       go on, researchers need to be aware of how much the time is needed before the actual

       study is to begin.

   2. Use proper populations to get valid answers.

               To use Bryant’s Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents, the proper

       populations need to be used for the information to be valid. The Index of Empathy was

       intended for use on young children in two different age groups: school aged and grade

       seven or older. In order to get proper findings, these populations must be used and a

       factor analysis must be done to achieve valid answers.
                                                                                         26


3. Use two surveys that are on the same scoring model.

          After conducting the research on our classmates, we found out that the two

   surveys we had used, Bryant’s Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents and

   Boat’s Inventory of Animal Related Experiences, could not be correlated together because

   they had different scoring models. Bryant’s survey used a scoring model that used

   numbers and a factor analysis, while Boat’s survey did not have a scoring model; it was

   purely yes and no answers for personal experiences with animals. To receive proper

   results the two surveys used need to have scoring models that can correlate to one

   another.
                                                                                                          27



                                             Appendices

Appendix A - Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescent

Bryant, B. (1982). An Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents, Child
Development, 53, 413-425. Items in italics score negatively.

1. It makes me sad to see a girl who can't find anyone to play with.
2. People who kiss and hug in public are silly.
3. Boys who cry because they are happy are silly.
4. I really like to watch people open presents, even when I don't get a present myself.
5. Seeing a boy who is crying makes me feel like crying.
6. I get upset when I see a girl being hurt.
7. Even when I don't know why someone is laughing, I laugh too.
8. Sometimes I cry when I watch TV.
9. Girls who cry because they are happy are silly.
10. It's hard for me to see why someone else gets upset.
11. I get upset when I see an animal being hurt.
12. It makes me sad to see a boy who can't find anyone to play with.
13. Some songs make me so sad I feel like crying.
14. I get upset when I see a boy being hurt.
15. Grown-ups sometimes cry even when they have nothing to be sad about.
16. It's silly to treat dogs and cats as though they have feelings like people.
17. I get mad when I see a classmate pretending to need help from the teacher all the time.
18. Kids who have no friends probably don't want any.
19. Seeing a girl who is crying makes me feel like crying.
20. I think it is funny that some people cry during a sad movie or while reading a sad book.
21. I am able to eat all my cookies even when I see someone looking at me wanting one.
22. I don't feel upset when I see a classmate being punished by a teacher for not obeying school rules.

Scoring
        For school-age children, Bryant scored items dichotomously (1 or 0 for yes or
no, true or false). For seventh grade or older, she used the same 9-point scoring
system as Merabian and Epstein (1972), namely -4 (not at all like me) to +4 (very
much like me). Negative items are reverse scored and items summed to obtain a scale
score.
        I would suggest that scale scores be derived by averaging, as such scores can
be interpreted in terms of the response categories. In addition, averaged scores have
less (error) variance than summed scores.
Regardless of the response scale used for the items, or how scale scores are
calculated, it is very likely that Bryant’s scale is multi-dimensional (and therefore
uninterpretable). If you use it, you should do a factor analysis to confirm that all items
fall on a single factor.
                                                                                              28



Appendix B - Boat’s Inventory on Animal-Related Experiences
       (NB – this is the long version of Boat’s Inventory. A shorter, modified version was to be
used with the youth in our study)
29
30
31
32
33
                                                                                              34




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