Psychology Behind Animal Abuse


Unacceptable behaviours that inflict pain and suffering on animals are called animal abuse or cruelty against animals. There has been an increase in the number of these cases but studies say that many of such cases remain undetected as the mistreatment takes place in private settings also animals the inability of these creatures to report the issue is another advantage for abusers. The government has enacted acts and laws but still, the brutality towards animals continues. Antispeciesism is the belief that animals are organisms that should be treated like ourselves and diets like Vegetarianism and Veganism were promoted to bring down animal abuse and torture.

Beating, kicking, overworking, torturing, hoarding, sexual abuse, and organized fights between animals are some of the common ways of abusing animals. According to reports India has seen about 5 lakh animal victims in the past decade. India ranks 6th in the production and consumption of cruelty while 13th in sanctioning cruelty. 

According to counselling psychologist Dr Archana Nanduri, Animal abuse is a significant concern in psychology and criminology, often reflecting deeper psychological issues and broader behavioural patterns. Individuals who abuse animals frequently display a lack of empathy and traits of antisocial personality disorder, such as a disregard for social norms and aggressive behaviour. In children and adolescents, it is often linked to conduct disorder, characterized by aggressive and rule-breaking behaviours.

Some abusers seek power and control due to feelings of inadequacy, while others have a history of trauma, perpetuating a cycle of violence. Cultural norms and social environments can also influence the prevalence of animal abuse, sometimes overlooking or accepting it. Aggressive behaviour can be innate or learned and is often exacerbated by situational factors or personal grievances. Abusers might act out of perceived provocation or misunderstanding, and high levels of stress or frustration can reduce impulse control, leading to violent outbursts. Addressing animal abuse requires early intervention, mental health treatment, education, and legal consequences to prevent further harm and break the cycle of violence.

Major Reasons for Animal Abuse

1. Lack of empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings. Some people lack this quality in their personality and such people may abuse animals because they don’t understand the feelings of these creatures. Upbringing is crucial when it comes to empathy when a child has only interacted with people who lack empathy and have never experienced it during his childhood then you cannot expect him to display this trait later in life. When the child’s environment is all about aggression, punishment, violence, and suffering he will get used to this.

Read More: Impact of Media Violence on Mental Health

2. For Power 

Some people abuse animals to feel empowered. Animals are considered weak so dominating them is a pleasure for many. People with narcissistic personalities may harm animals, to manipulate the animals or their owner. People with this personality usually express disregard towards others’ emotions. Narcissists have unrealistic expectations from animals and if this is not met then they might abuse these innocent creatures. People with Mental Health disorders such as Antisocial Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Conduct Disorder have more possibility to get involved in animal abuse.

Read More: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

3. Cultural Practices

Abusing animals is considered a ritual in certain religions and cultures. Cultural animal abuse is one of the highly committed cruelty acts in India. The animals are either tortured or their life is sacrificed. The practice of animal slaughter and abuse can be observed in religions like Hinduism, Islam, and Zulu in Africa and among Jewish believers. Some blindly believe their forefathers and try to follow them without a second thought. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was enacted by the Indian Parliament to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain on innocent animals.

5. Childhood Trauma

Children who had a disorganized childhood, and who didn’t receive appropriate love and nurture from caregivers have more chances of performing animal abuse. Children who were involved in animal abuse in childhood have more chances of continuing the same in adulthood.

According to Counselling Psychologist, Ph.D. Scholar Ojaswita Bhushan, witnessing animal cruelty can desensitize children to violence, decrease empathy, and lead to higher chances of engagement in antisocial behaviours. Children might not only internalize that violence is ‘okay’, but sadly also learn the implicit bias that animal lives aren’t as important as humans. Children exposed to animal abuse in their homes are more likely to experience psychological problems and exhibit maladjustment behaviours.

Studies have shown that exposure to animal cruelty can lead to internalizing and externalizing behaviours and role-model aggression in different contexts. Witnessing animal cruelty can be especially traumatic for children who seek attachment and security from their pets. Observing animal abuse can be considered an Adverse Childhood Experience that can contribute to high levels of stress and long-term negative health outcomes, that can persist well into adulthood.

Read More: Breaking the Silence: Exploring the Impact of Childhood Trauma

6. Neglect 

The fear of animals and the lack of knowledge about their behaviour and maintenance can lead to unintentional abuse. The fear of diseases like rabies and other diseases that spread via animals is a prime concern for people. People are also scared of animal attacks. Proper awareness and timely vaccination might help to prevent this to some extent.

7. Substance Abuse 

The use and abuse of drugs can alter our perception and can affect our decision-making skills negatively. This might make people do inhumane activities like animal abuse. There are reports related to these kinds of acts performed by pet owners.

8. Dark triad 

Dark triad personalities include Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Higher levels of the dark triad are linked to higher rates of animal cruelty.

9. Monetary Advantage

Illegal wildlife trafficking, poaching, and hunting are some of the major ways for financial gain among illegal traders. Elephants are killed for ivory, tigers for their claws and skin, and crocodiles for their skin the list will go on. Man’s greed for money can lead him to any extent. Using animals to perform entertainment-related activities like circuses and torturing them for celebrations and ritualistic purposes is another common practice. The owners or trainers might give them enough food but bringing them out of their habitat and using them for our pleasure is one of the greatest mistakes.

Read More: Exploring the Traits and Impact of People with Greedy Nature

10. For food 

Some of us see animals as food and not as creatures. Hunting is one of the oldest practices where animals are killed for subsistence. Food is a basic need and for some people, this is an emotion. People eat different animals based on geographical area, climatic conditions, culture, and dietary needs. Hunting for any intent is illegal in India, according to the Wildlife Protection Act Animals are categorized into five schedules. The animals belonging to the first two categories are the most protected while animals in later schedules are least protected.

11. Laboratory Experiments

Animals mice, fish, rats, birds, rabbits, monkeys, etc. are forced to be a part of laboratory experiments. These animals are made to suffer by injecting chemicals, and diseases, and by making them undergo medical procedures for research purposes. Most of them are killed after the completion of an experiment.

How can I stop animal cruelty?

If you feel like animal cruelty is taking place in your locality the first thing you do is to educate the person who is performing it. Collecting proofs in the form of photos and videos will help in filing an FIR. If this is not suitable then inform animal rescuers if not a local animal shelter or any such professionals to get a better idea about how to go about the situation. Some communities allow anonymous reporting while some may not support anonymity. Some of the important animal welfare organizations in our country are the Animal Welfare Board of India ( AWBI), People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), People for Cattle in India (PFCI), and People For Animals (PFA). These organizations are trying their best to reduce animal abuse. 

Laws aimed at protecting animals have been enacted to discourage animal abuse. Other measures taken to enhance animal rights and safety include educating and spreading awareness among individuals on the importance of animals, protecting the animal’s habitat, and building homes for the exploited animals so they can be protected and fed. Animal abuse is a matter of international crisis as this can affect the overall equilibrium of living creatures. A complete cessation of animal abuse is nearly impossible but laws, awareness, education, and love can reduce this act to some extent.

Reference +
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  • Parashar, V. (2024, March 20). Unmasking animal abusers: A psychological analysis of animal cruelty. India Today.
  • Bittinger, B. (2023). Exploring the reasons people abuse animals [Thesis]. In G. Koehle, S. Grier, D. Jones, & S. Subocz (Eds.), Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies.
  • Voiceless. (n.d.). India – Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index. Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index.
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