Exploring Differences in the Attribution of Mind to Extinct and Non-Extinct Animals

Anderson, J. (Australian Catholic University; Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health, and Society [ARCSHS], La Trobe University.), McLeod, E. (Melbourne Zoo), Jones, S. (Australian Catholic University)

Many people report fond feelings for animals, despite behaving in ways that may harm them. People may relieve this cognitive dissonance by denying complex mental states to animals that have been harmed. The present research examined differences in human perceptions of animal intelligence between recently extinct and non-extinct species, and explored mechanisms for this effect. Across three experiments (N = 1,216), participants read vignettes describing a fictitious Australian species (the ‘Broad-Nosed Potaroo’) before completing items assessing their perception of the species’ intelligence. Study 1 manipulated the species’ conservation status to test the hypothesis that threatened and non-threatened animals are perceived as more intelligent than extinct animals. Study 2 manipulated the cause of extinction to explore whether anthropogenic extinction acts as a mechanism for the effect. Finally, Study 3 used a false-feedback paradigm to induce perceptions of personal responsibility, to explore if these factors in unison can explain variance in perceptions of animal intelligence. These findings are discussed in relation to their implications for conservation education campaigns.

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Environmental Concerns