Speaker: Amandus Hopfgarten @AmandusHopfgarten
Affiliation: Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena (Germany)
Title: Cat or Hen? The Impact of Narrative Representations of ‘Pets’ and ‘Farm Animals’ on Reader Attitudes towards Non-Human Animals
Abstract (long version below): Empirical ecocriticism is an emerging field that combines insights from the environmental humanities with methods from environmental communication and the empirical study of literature in order to study the impact of environmental narratives in literature, film, television, video games, and other media on attitudes, emotions, perceptions, and behavior (Małecki, 2019; Schneider-Mayerson, Weik von Mossner, et al., 2020). While still relatively new, the field has already generated significant interest in academia and beyond, with special journal issues and edited collections devoted to it (Schneider-Mayerson et al., 2023), as well as media coverage by the likes of Newsweek or Psychology Today. This interest is mainly due to the exciting output generated by empirical ecocriticism on the potential of stories to move the public on today’s most pressing environmental issues such as climate change, species extinction, and animal welfare (Brereton & Gómez, 2020; Iossifidis & Garforth, 2022; Małecki et al., 2016, 2019; Malecki et al., 2021; Myren-Svelstad, 2023; Sabherwal & Shreedhar, 2022; Schneider-Mayerson, 2018; Schneider-Mayerson, Gustafson, et al., 2020). This symposium focuses on the latter topic, providing new empirical data, both qualitative and quantitative, on the impact of animal stories in video games, literature, and film on perceptions of animals and attitudes toward animal welfare.
For decades, ecocritics have presupposed an impact of literature on readers’ attitudes and behaviours regarding the environment without ever investigating it empirically (Małecki 2019, Schneider-Mayerson et al. 2020). Some research shows that narrative persuasion may have an even greater impact on attitudes than cognitive-communicative measures (Heberlein 2012). Focussing on non-human animals (NHAs) as one of the most salient features of humanenvironment-interaction, this contribution presents a study that tests whether narrative depictions of one suffering NHA cause changes in attitudes towards NHAs in general and whether this impact is mediated by the dichotomisation of NHAs as ‘pets’ or ‘farm animals’. The study was conducted online with German native speakers (n = 432) with the main aim of testing two hypotheses: (1) People who read a story about an NHA being abused and killed will show more pro-NHA-welfare attitudes as indicated by Herzog et al.’s Animal Attitude Scale (AAS) (2015) than people who read a story that involves no NHAs. (2) People who read a story about a ‘typical pet’ being abused and killed will show more pro-NHA-welfare attitudes than people who read a story about a ‘typical farm animal’ being abused and killed. The questionnaire also sampled different aspects of participants’ worldview (e.g. political, religious, social attitudes), transportation, text comprehension and other common intervening variables. Data analysis is currently pending; results will be presented at the conference. This contribution aims to provide insight into whether attitudes towards NHAs are mediated by a depicted NHA’s categorisation, potentially allowing future research to investigate the relation between changed attitudes and induced behaviour regarding NHAs. Just like with climate fiction, being able to determine if and how NHA narratives persuade and influence readers is vital for the numerous activist writers and organisations investing into the potential of literature to change the world for the better.
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Herzog, H. et al. (2015). Brief Measures of the Animal Attitude Scale. Anthrozoös, 28(1), 145–152.
Małecki, W. (2019). Experimental Ecocriticism, or how to know if literature really works. In S. Slovic et al. (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Ecocriticism and Environmental Communication (pp. 211–223). Routledge.
Małecki, W. et al. (2019). Human Minds and Animal Stories: How Narratives Make Us Care about other Species. Routledge.
Schneider-Mayerson, M. et al. (2020). Environmental Literature as Persuasion: An Experimental Test of the Effects of Reading Climate Fiction. Environmental Communication, 1–16.