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Thursday, July 1, 2021

Beauty of the Beast: Beauty as an important dimension in the moral standing of animals

Klebl, C. et al.
Journal of Environmental Psychology
Volume 75, June 2021, 101624

Abstract

Conservationists have sought to identify avenues through which to gain public support for efforts to halt the accelerating decline in animal diversity. Previous research has identified perceived internal qualities of animals that lead people to view them as deserving of protection for their own sake; that is, increase their moral standing. In two studies, we found that perceived beauty is an external aesthetic quality that leads people to attribute moral standing to animals independently from animals' perceived mental capacities associated with patiency or agency, and dispositional harmfulness, as well as other factors likely to influence moral standing. In Study 1, we found that beauty perceptions predicted moral standing independently from perceived patiency, agency, and harmfulness across a wide range of animal species. In Study 2 (pre-registered), we found that beauty causally influenced moral standing attributions to animals independently from animals’ perceived internal qualities, as well as their perceived similarity to humans, familiarity, and edibility. Our findings provide insight into another factor which contributes to the perceived moral status of animals, and therefore may help conservationists to identify the most effective ways to attract funds for conservation efforts.

Highlights

• Beauty perceptions predict moral standing attributions across a wide range of animal species.

• Beauty predicts moral standing independently from perceived patiency, agency, and harmfulness.

• Beauty causally influences moral standing attributions independently from other factors linked to moral standing.

• May help conservationists to identify the most effective ways to attract funds for the conservation of endangered species.

Conclusion

Human activities pose serious threats to the earth's biodiversity. Today, it is more urgent than ever to gain public support for conservation efforts in order to halt the accelerating decline in animal diversity. The present investigation suggests that animals' beauty leads people to view animals as having moral standing, independent from their perceived mental capacities, disposition to act benevolently, as well as their perceived similarity to humans, familiarity, and edibility. This validates conservation strategies focussing on animals' aesthetic appeals such as the use of beautiful flagship species to attract fund for a broad range of endangered species including less aesthetically appealing animals (Veríssimo et al., 2017). Our findings may help to better calibrate future conservation appeals based on the idiosyncratic qualities of animals that are the target of conservation campaigns. As such, they may contribute to identifying new avenues through which to gain greater public support for conservation efforts by making people recognize that animals have a moral status independent from human interests.