by Marsha Rakestraw

We’re continuing to learn more about young children and how quickly they make connections and form judgments.

Studies have shown that by age three kids have developed ideas about behaviors and activities that they connect with a particular gender; that pre-schoolers start to show preference for people who share their skin color; that at an early age kids start to show brand preferences.

A recent study, published in Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Internations of People & Animals, suggests that children as young as three start to show preferences for certain kinds of nonhuman animals. (h/t to Faunalytics)

The goal of the study was to assess preferences for different animal species in a group of Italian children, ages three to six.

The study results suggest that children as young as three demonstrate a preference for “higher-order species” and for “aesthetically appealing and familiar (mostly domestic) animals.”

According to Faunalytics (who has access to the complete study):

“The authors state that ‘educational programs to foster knowledge of, and positive attitudes toward, animals should be directed at children before they enter primary school, since most of the negative attitudes emerge early on in life.’ They note that building positive attitudes of animals at an early age is “of primary importance because of its impact on animal welfare” and in developing healthy and safe child-animal relationships. Humane education needs to start early, and this study should be a call for advocates to redouble their efforts with younger kids.”

So many of our values, beliefs, and biases are developed at a young age. Humane education nurtures compassion and respect for all beings and teaches children to see nonhuman animals as individuals with emotions, intelligence, and their own interests, and as deserving of equal consideration.

Two easy ways to begin nurturing respect and caring for a variety of nonhuman animals are to:

  • expose children early and often to different kinds of animals, through nature walks and programs, visits to animal sanctuaries and shelters, and age-appropriate videos about animals — encouraging their questions and curiosity. Help them see animals as individual beings with their own lives, needs, and interests.
  • read stories regularly to children about animals and compassion and empathy toward animals.

When we are raised from infancy to care about the needs and interests of everyone, then our life choices cultivate a kinder, more just world for all.


Image via Jessica Lucia/Flickr.