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High School Students' Attitudes Toward Animals

  • TITLE: High School Students' Attitudes Toward Animals
  • LEVEL: High School
  • DURATION: Eight to Twelve Weeks
  • DEVELOPED BY: Rhonda Donn, Student


Promote greater understanding of the interrelationships between species.

UNIT OVERVIEW (by editor):

This unit will describe a project undertaken by Rhonda Donn, when she was a high school senior at Townsend Harris High School in Queens, New York, in 1990. It deals with an attitudinal scale she developed concerning high school students' attitudes regarding the use of animals in biomedical science. She won Westinghouse National Semi-Finalist, and Metropolitan New York Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Finalist honors with this project.


Over the course of history there has been an overwhelming consensus of opinion in favor of the usage of animals for scientific purposes. Beginning in 3 B.C. with Erasistratus and continuing to the present day, animals have become the accepted means of studying biological functions. The results of animal research are extrapolated to the human species.

Viewing the benefits of animal research, society tipped the balance of public opinion in favor of the research scientist (Turner, 1980). In general it can be said that the majority of people are in favor of animal usage in science. However, there is a minority who believe that animals should not be used in scientific research. In the 1950's this position grew into a solidified movement and it has continued to expand (Rowan, 1984).

Since there are numerous conflicts of interest among Americans regarding animal testing, I, Rhonda Donn, decided to devise a questionnaire which would determine the attitudes of students regarding the use of animals in biomedical research.


In order to determine high school students' attitudes towards the use of animals in science, I used an attitudinal scale devised by Kellert (1984), and extracted four central categories from his scale. I tested students' moralistic, humanistic, scientistic and utilitarian capabilities. A moralistic view exemplifies a concern for the proper treatment of animals and a strong opposition to cruelty or exploitation. The humanistic viewpoint deals with an interest in, and an affection for animals, mainly pets. The utilitarian aspect deals with the concern for the practical and material value of animals or their habitat. The scientistic attitude is associated with a strong interest in both the physical attributes, as well as the biological functioning of animals.


    1. Females are more compassionate than males, therefore resulting in higher moralistic and humanistic tendencies by females.
    2. Males are more interested in the use and functioning of animals than females, causing males to have a greater degree of scientistic and materialistic attitudes.
    As the grade level increases, the propensity for students to have moralistic and humanistic responses would increase, causing ninth grade students to have higher utilitarian and scientistic tendencies than twelfth grade students.
    The most mainstream of all the attitudes if humanistic, thus causing humanistic to be the most frequent attitude chosen by all students tested.


Moralistic: Sixteen sheep were used to determine human reactions to blast injuries. Twelve sheep were "seated upright on a bench" and were exposed to explosive charges set off 2-3 feet away. Four sheep were blasted "in the open for comparison".

  • Scientists should study animals in their natural habitats rather than in laboratories.

Humanistic: Thirty-seven rats were anesthetized, implanted with catheters (a tube to withdraw fluids), and had both hind legs broken. The rats were then given nutrients intravenously for five days to observe effects on their immune system.

  • The scientists were more justified in using rats than in using dogs.

Utilitarian: Monkeys were tested in order to determine the effects of glue (toluene) on their systems. This experiment was performed to discover how long , and in what quantities, humans were addicted to toluene.

  • This experiment is necessary and should continue, since the knowledge found can be applied to humans.

Scientistic: Eight squirrel monkeys were taken from their mothers at ten days of age and raised with surrogate mothers (plastic cylinders covered with soft fabric), until they reached eleven months of age. At eleven months, the monkey were paired up for four weeks and then were placed alone, or with another monkey, to observe their emotional responses.

  • Scientists have the right to carry out experiments such as the one described above, in order to learn about developmental behavior.


    1. The females tested expressed greater moralistic and humanistic tendencies than the males.
    2. Males, in substantial amounts, expressed greater utilitarian, as well as scientistic viewpoints, than did the females.
    As the grade level increased, the students tested expressed increased scientistic, utilitarian and humanistic attitudes.
    The humanistic attitude was the most frequent attitude chosen, followed by moralistic, scientistic and utilitarian viewpoints respectively
Percentage of Moralistic Attitude Exhibited
  Grade 9 Grade 12 Combined percentage
Male student 41.1% 35.1% 38.1%
Female student 51.1% 46% 48.5%
Combined percentage 46.1% 40.5% 43.3%
Percentage of Scientistic Responses Exhibited
  Grade 9 Grade 12 Combined percentage
Male student 10.3% 12.3% 11.3%
Female students 7% 7.3% 7.15%
Combined percentage 8.65% 9.8% 9.23%
Percentage of Utilitarian Attitudes Exhibited
  Grade 9 Grade 12 Combined percentage
Male student 11.3% 27.3% 19.3%
Female student 8.6% 14.6% 11.6%
Combined percentage 10% 21% 15.4%
Percentage of Humanistic Responses Exhibited
  Grade 9 Grade 12 Combined percentage
Male student 41.3% 46.6% 43.9%
Female students 36% 53% 44.5%
Combined percentage 38.6% 49.8% 44.2%
Percentage of Positive Responses to Attitudes According to Grade Level and Gender
Attitude Percentage of all students
Humanistic 44.2%
Moralistic 43.3%
Scientistic 18.45%
Utilitarian 15.45%
Frequency Distribution of Students' Knowledge of Public Awareness: Grade 9
  Male Female Total Percentage
Not aware 13 13 26 52%
Neutral 6 3 9 18%
Aware 6 9 15 30%
Total 25 25 50 100%
Frequency Distribution of Students' Knowledge of Public Awareness: Grade 12
  Male Female Total Percentage
Not aware 15 18 33 66%
Neutral 4 1 5 8.5%
Aware 6 6 12 24%
Total 25 25 50 100%



The results of the tests performed on the data proved very interesting. As predicted, the most frequently chosen attitudes was the humanistic one, followed by the moralistic, scientistic and utilitarian viewpoints respectively. Unexpectedly, ninth grade students exhibited more moralistic responses than the twelfth graders who displayed much greater frequency of utilitarian answers. This could be attributed to the fact that the twelfth grade students are on the verge of adulthood and they see the practical and materialistic values of animals use as taking precedence over moralistic concerns. In Stephen Kellert's study, "Attitudes towards animals: age-related development among children," Kellert described that after the eighth grade there were increases in moralistic responses. However, the adults that Kellert tested consistently demonstrated a greater tendency towards the utilitarian perspective. This can be applied to my study of high school students as well.

In both grade levels tested, the females expressed greater moralistic concerns as compared to the male students. These results paralleled Sanders'' (1980) and Kellert's (1983) studies. In addition, most students felt that society was unaware of animal experimentation going on today. I believe that the students felt this way because most students and society at large, do not have any direct reason to come into contact with explanations of laboratory procedures in animal research. Society's awareness, or lack of it, might be further studied to determine what role society might play in shaping the attitudes of students regarding such a controversial topic.

There were limitations to my research paper. I did not determine the totality of the affirmative of a given attitudinal response. Rather, I grouped together the "partially" and "totally" responses any given attitude. I would have liked to see of pet ownership played any part in the development of students' attitudes. I would also have wanted to facilitate a larger sample.

In the future, I would like to see researchers further investigate what specifically causes female students to have greater moralistic tendencies than male students. Also I would like to find out at what point, and why, students begin to have an increase in utilitarian feelings.


Humane Innovations and Alternatives, Volume 5, 1991, by Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, contains two articles which might form the basis for a humane science project:

1. The Psychology of Veganism: A Case Study, by Caroline Constantine.
2. Animal Welfare Awareness Among High School Students, by Sheri Stegall.

For additional information contact:

Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PSYeta)
Box 1297,
Washington Grove, MD 20880-1297


Kellert, Stephen, "From Kinship to Mastery: A Study of American Attitudes Toward Animals" in Humane Education and Realms of Humaneness edited by Stuart Westerlund, University Pres of America, 1982