Empathic Differences in Men Who Witnessed Animal Abuse

“Dissociation Effect” between Cognitive and Affective Empathy

Beth Daly and L.L. Morton

Abstract

This study draws on diverse research results from investigating the relationship between experiences with nonhuman animal abuse and empathy. We examined whether 108 men with a history of animal abuse showed differences between cognitive (perspective-taking) and affective (emotional) empathy. The effects related to three levels (never, once, multiple times) of witnessing the killing of animals and witnessing the torture of animals. Individuals who witnessed abuse were higher in cognitive empathy than affective empathy. This supports previous findings for a “dissociation hypothesis,” which suggests exposure to animal abuse may mediate between emotional and cognitive empathy. Therefore, it may be beneficial for an individual to have the ability to detach cognitive from emotional empathy—particularly those in careers related to animal welfare and veterinary care. An absence of emotional empathy may also lead to a callous or dismissive attitude to people in need. We sought an appropriate balance of the two.