THE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY OF ANIMAL ABUSE AND HUNTING
Cruelty to animals made sport
The majority of hunters in our country defend hunting as a sport or as entertainment, but, for an ever-increasing number of citizens, this activity raises serious moral doubts: What kind of person finds satisfaction in killing another living being, seeing its pain and, after having killed it, taking a picture with its corpse? There are investigations that relate this lack of empathy with certain psychopathic disorders, and many theories have already stated that violence towards non-human animals is a precedent for violence towards people.
What is Animal Abuse?
Animal abuse is understood as the behaviors that cause pain or stress to an animal. It can range from negligence in basic care to malicious killing. There are two types of animal cruelty, direct abuse, which is understood as the killing or mistreatment of an animal, and indirect abuse, which is produced when one is a witness to or supports the abuse or torture of an animal and doesn’t do anything to stop it. These unnecessary abuses have become a social issue of great magnitude.
In June 2016, the Civil Guard (a police force in Spain) introduced a campaign against the mistreatment and abandonment of domestic animals with the hashtag #YoSiPuedoContarlo. (Roughly translated as “Yes, I’ll Say Something” ). The head of SEPRONA (a section of the Civil Guard that deals with nature protection and preservation), pointed out that during 2015 the Civil Guard learned of 10,793 administrative infringements related to companion animals, and 609 crimes where 426 people were either arrested or investigated for animal cruelty.
Among the infractions and crimes were:
- 450 abandoned dogs
- 23 hanged dogs
- 44 dogs that were victims of hits or beatings, 23 of which died
- 47 dogs wounded with firearms, 27 of which died
- 115 poisoned dogs
- 97 dogs found in a state of malnutrition
- 353 dogs stolen dogs
According to the data from a study about animal abandonment conducted by the Fundación Affinity in 2015, the figures increased to 104,501 dogs abandoned this year, of which 10% were hunting dogs.
Animal abuse also extends to other areas such as the food industry, the fur industry, scientific experiments, and to entertainment (circuses, zoos, and festivities). In the spanish meat industry alone, the number of animals killed in slaughterhouses in 2015 were more than 840,000,000, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing, Food, and Environment.
Adding up all these causes of animal abuse, the number of animals killed yearly in Spain reaches over 1 billion according to data from various sources such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and various animal rights organizations such as Fundación Alma Animal.
What is psychopathology and what mental or psychological disorders are related to violence towards animals?
Psychopathology is an area of health that describes and systematizes changes in behavior that are not explained by aging or the development of the individual, nor as a result of learning processes, those changes are understood as mental disorders. Cruelty towards animals is one of the components of the “Macdonald Triad” (Also known as the Triad of Sociopathy), together with pyromania and urinary incontinence.
Among the criteria to diagnose a dissociative disorder, according to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), we find the manifestation of physical cruelty towards animals. These disorders are characterized by a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which a person violates the basic rights of other people or important social norms characteristic of their age. The disorder usually appears either in infancy or in adolescence.
People with dissociative disorder usually manifest, to a larger or smaller degree, some specific personality characteristics: lack of empathy and concern for other beings, difficulty in perceiving feelings, wishes and intentions of others, (which they interpret as hostile), insensitivity, low capacity to recognize blame or show remorse, distorted self-esteem, emotional instability and a very low tolerance to frustration. According to the diagnosis criteria in the DSM-IV, the presence of Dissociative Disorder during infancy serves as a precedent for the appearance of Antisocial Personality Disorder in adulthood.
In a study done by Doctor Nuria Querol i Viñas on the relationship between Antisocial Personality Disorder and animal abuse (Cruelty to animals and Antisocial Personality Disorder. Criminological and forensic correlations), fifty-two forensic cases with a record of violence towards animals were analyzed. Eighty-nine percent of these sample cases were also accused for violent crimes - sexual aggression (35% of the cases) and murder (24%) were the crimes that headed the list. Given the results, Doctor Querol highlighted the necessity to evaluate cruelty to animals in infancy and adolescence to allow for early diagnosis and intervention.
Morality, empathy, ego and narcissism
According to the Oxford Dictionary, “moral” is defined as: “concerned with or derived from the code of behavior that is considered right or acceptable in a particular society.”
Neuropsychological investigations have identified two neural systems that are related to psychopathy and that can be important for moral development: the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. According to studies performed by various specialists, such as neuroscientist James Blair or H.L. Gordon, in people with psychopathic disorders, these zones show a reduced activity in response to emotional stimulation and during aversive conditioning (also known as aversion therapy). This lack of sensation or emotion in the face of external stimuli causes certain people to be prone to seek stronger emotions, thinking only on their own reward (adrenaline, ecstasy, etc.), falling into extreme and sometimes criminal behaviors. Like for example, seeing another creature die or hunting are experiences sought by people who are less capable of empathy and recognize the suffering of others.
"A child growing up surrounded by aggression against any living being is more likely to rape, abuse or kill humans as an adult" (Kellert & Felthous, 1985)
The psychiatrist H.M. Cleckley in his book The Mask of Sanity, pointed out that the existence of amoral emotional responses are the most outstanding characteristics of psychopathy. Aspects such as the inability to love or the lack of affectionate reactions are always recognized in descriptions and definitions of this disorder.
For psychopaths, the response shown towards stimuli with emotional content (independent of the quality) is lower in comparison than the response shown towards neutral stimuli. This response pattern in psychopaths seems to be related to the factor of moral indifference.
The revision of studies that the psychologist Augusto Blasi carried out supports the hypothesis that criminals use inferior moral reasoning; these people appear to be in a pre-conventional stage of moral reasoning, characterized by the supremacy of one’s own interests and a general pragmatism. For the psychologist, Martin Hoffman, the roots of morality are found in empathy. In another of his studies, J. Blair found a reduction in bodily responses (sweat or Galvanic skin response) in psychopaths while showing them images of people and animals suffering.
Morality and empathy are related to the ego, given that both require an analysis of the separation between one’s own ego and the ego of others. In the study Reading the trophy: exploring the display of dead animals in hunting magazines, sociologists Amy Fitzgerald and Linda Kalof analyzed 792 “hero shots,” photographs taken by hunters next to the prey after having killed it. They found that, in the majority of these photographs, the hunter placed themselves in a position of superiority and dominance over the animal, in this way realizing their desired power dynamic, being them the most powerful being on the picture.
Narcissism is an exaggerated overvaluation of one’s own importance and a desire for the admiration of others. We cannot ignore a point of exhibitionism in showing trophies that seeks the approval of others. According to the study by Phillip S. Kavanagh, “The Dark Triad and animal cruelty: Dark personalities, dark attitudes, and dark behaviors”, higher scores in the Dark Triad criteria are associated with a larger number of acts of animal cruelty and negative behavior towards animals.
As can be seen, animal mistreatment is one of the three members of the “Macdonald Triad” and a criterion of diagnosis for Dissociative Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder. Both mental disorders involve the lack of morality and empathy for those who are suffering, which leads the afflicted to have egotistical and narcissistic behavior.
“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.”
Autora: Camila Lorenz Roy / Translates: Yeray López
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