A new study shows that children want to see farmed animals treated well – at least as well as humans – but that many people lose that compassion in adolescence and adulthood.

A group of British children, aged 9 to 11, told researchers that pigs should be treated the same as humans, according to the study, conducted by researchers at the universities of Exeter and Oxford and published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Meanwhile, the group of 18 to 21 year olds, and a group of older adults, said definitively that pigs should be treated less well than dogs or humans, but that dogs and humans should be treated the same.

The findings seemed to hinge directly on the species of the animal, rather than their innate intelligence – as pigs have proven to be smarter than dogs, and even some 3-year-old human children.

“Some animals are beloved household companions, while others are kept in factory farms for economic gain,” Luke McGuire, lead author, told The Guardian. “Judgments seem to largely depend on the species of the animal in question.”

McGuire said human minds are capable of “mental acrobatics,” or holding conflicting ethical values, and that people’s relationships are “full of ethical double standards.”

Speciesism, or assigning different values to different animals, most likely gets learned in adolescence and adulthood, the study asserts.

“Something seems to happen in adolescence, where that early love for animals becomes more complicated and we develop more speciesism,” McGuire said.

Children found it less morally acceptable to eat any animal for food. But in a hopeful note, the adult groups also found it less morally acceptable to consume meat than animal products, like milk, according to the study.

“Aversion to animals’, including farm animals’, being harmed does not disappear entirely,” McGuire noted.

Shifting adult’s perspectives about plant-based diets could naturally come from capitalizing on their childhood compassion, he added. 

Serving more plant-based foods in grade schools, for example, could help children normalize less meat- and dairy-heavy diets.

Lady Freethinker encourages our readers to explore plant-based options and to choose a vegan lifestyle. There are many affordable and delicious options out there – and the animals and the planet will thank you for your compassionate choice!