Humane education research presented at national conferences

Working with animals helps increase both empathy and self-esteem in children, according to a new Dominican University of California study due to be presented this week at both The National Humane Education Conference in Seattle and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in Memphis.

Dr. Afshin Gharib, a professor of psychology at Dominican, and Danielle Davis ‘19, a psychology undergraduate student, assessed the effectiveness of a humane education summer camp program held at Marin Humane during a three-year period. It is front-page news in the Marin Independent Journal.

In the study, 365 participants between 7 and 18 years of age completed a pre-test survey that includes measures of self esteem, locus of control, attitudes toward animals, and empathy toward other people. The study was administered during orientation before the summer camp began.

On the last day of camp, participants completed the same measures. Participants showed increased self esteem, more internal locus of control, more humane attitudes toward animals, and more empathy toward other people. While the effects were modest in size and the sample is large, scores improved by about 5 percent for attitudes toward animals and 2 percent for the increase in self-esteem.

Indeed, every measure showed improvement at the end of camp, even though the camp was only one week long and its focus was on humane education and property treatment of animals, rather than on the students self image or attitudes toward other people.

“The potential impact of humane education can be appreciated in light of the well-established association between cruelty to toward animals and violence toward humans,” Gharib said. “One rationale for humane education programs is that teaching children to treat animals humanely will have a positive impact on the participants’ attitudes toward themselves and other people.”

Marin Humane offers one-week day camps for children in grades 1-12. Participants interact with animals, learn how to care for pets and about the animal shelter, and participate in crafts, games and activities intended to expose them to issues around humane treatment of animals and animal advocacy issues.

“Our findings show a strong argument for increased participation in these types of programs,” Gharib said. “The activities participants in these programs engage in may have a secondary beneficial effect of improving self-image by fostering the development of self-confidence and encouraging independence and pro-social behaviors.”

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Danielle presented the work at NCUR, which was held this year from April 6-8 at the University of Memphis. Dr. Gharib co-presented the findings with Darlene Blackman, director of community outreach for Marin Humane, at the National Humane Education Conference on April 5.

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April 3, 2017