Why is it that we treat various species of animals so differently? In episode 71, Veronica Sevillano with the Autonomous University of Madrid discusses her research applying social psychology and conservation biology to understand the relationships people have with animals. Her chapter, “Animals as social groups: An intergroup relations analysis of human-animal conflicts” [PDF] was co-authored with Susan Fiske and published in the book Why people love and exploit animals: Bridging insights from academia and advocacy (edited by Kristof Dhont and Gordon Hodson) in November 2019.

Why We Love & Exploit Animals - Verónica Sevillano
Why We Love & Exploit Animals - Verónica Sevillano
Why We Love & Exploit Animals - Verónica Sevillano Why We Love & Exploit Animals - Verónica Sevillano
@rwatkins says:
Next time, in episode 72 of Parsing Science, we’ll talk with Akchousanh Rasphone from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford. She’ll talk with us about her research which found that improvised snares in Laos have completely decimated the wild tiger pollution, a species whose worldwide population is now estimated to be around 200.
@rwatkins says:
We wrapped up our conversation with Verónica by asking what she has planned next with regard to bringing social psychology and conservation biology into closer alignment and - perhaps - creating greater cooperation between social psychologists and conservation biologists themselves.
@rwatkins says:
Doug and I followed up by asking Verónica to tell us more about the modified questionnaire that she and Susan used to explore how the content of our stereotypes about animal species parallels the stereotypes that we hold about other groups of people.
@rwatkins says:
Having established the general aims of their research, Ryan and I asked Verónica to explain the objectives of three studies which they carried out to answer the broader question of why we love some animals and exploit others.
@rwatkins says:
Verónica and Susan also applied another two-by-two framework over the four cells of the Stereotype Content Model, essentially creating a two-by-two-by-two conceptual model. We were curious to hear how this second framework - called the BIAS Map - helped them gain a better understanding of how the stereotypes that we hold about those outside of our groups can help explain the actions we take towards - or against - them. We'll hear what she had to say after this short break.
@rwatkins says:
While writing my dissertation, one of the most useful books I happened across was called "The power of the two-by-two matrix," which essentially breaks down much of our lives into discrete two-variable questions. One of the things I very much gravitated toward in Verónica and Susan's chapter was that it does the same, but with regard to the question of our social perceptions of animals. So we asked Verónica to explain how her and Susan's two-by-two matrix works to do so.
@rwatkins says:
Verónica and Susan used a questionnaire to identify and categorize people's attitudes toward various animal species. The survey was originally developed to validate a conceptual model of Susan's about how our perceptions of the warmth and competence of different groups of people can elicit either pity or admiration of them, or envy and contempt. So we asked Verónica to tell us more about the model, as well as how it can also be applied to our perceptions of animal species.
@rwatkins says:
Verónica and Susan's chapter contends that distinct species of animals function as social groups. Such a point of view requires attributing some of the distinctive qualities of human social groups to animal species. Now, you might think that only naturalists or animal-rights advocates hold such perspectives, but the tone of her and Susan's chapter doesn't take such sides. We mentioned this to Verónica, and asked her thoughts on what differentiates conservationists from speciesists.
@rwatkins says:
Verónica and Susan's manuscript points out that the conflicts which groups of people experience can be categorized in one of two ways: either as realistic conflict, or as the result of a conflict that’s symbolic. Realistic conflicts can threaten the resources that are available to the groups we belong to, and stand to endanger our very well-being. But symbolic conflicts threaten not our lives, but rather the worldviews, values, and beliefs of the groups to which we belong. While symbolic conflict with other people doesn't necessarily pose a threat to lives and limbs, when humans and animals have symbolic conflicts - be it through commercial livestock and wild animal hunting - it often does. So Doug and I were curious to hear Verónica's thoughts about this distinction.
@rwatkins says:
Anytime we first talk with a guest, Ryan and I start out by asking if they've had the chance to listen to a previous episode - as we think it gives a pretty good sense of what to expect about the show’s format. When we asked Veronica, she told us that she’d listened to our discussion with Susan Gelman ... whose research is into the use of generic language in scientific communication, we spoke with her back in episode 63. Veronica's manuscript also addresses the problems that can follow from using generic language - in her case, from referring to animals generically - instead of referring to specific animal species. So we were interested in hearing her thoughts about how her and Susan's work might share some unanticipated commonalities.
@rwatkins says:
As a social psychologist, Verónica studies why people behave in the ways we do when other people are involved. So Doug and I were curious in learning how she became interested in applying social psychology to conservation biology, a multidisciplinary field which focuses on the loss of biodiversity that happens due to human-animal conflicts.
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Hosts / Producers

Ryan Watkins & Doug Leigh

How to Cite

Watkins, R., Leigh, D., & Sevillano, V.. (2020). Parsing Science – Why We Love & Exploit Animals. figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12084204


What’s The Angle? by Shane Ivers


Verónica Sevillano: Our stereotypes about animal species have an impact on how we feel and how we behave toward distinct animal species.

Ryan Watkins: This is Parsing Science: the unpublished stories behind the world’s most compelling science, as told by the researcher themselves. I’m Ryan Watkins.

Doug Leigh: And I’m Doug Leigh. Today, in episode 71 of Parsing Science, we’re joined by Verónica Sevillano with the Department of Social Psychology and Methodology at the Autonomous University of Madrid. She’ll discuss her research with Susan Fiske from Princeton University into applying social psychology to understand why we treat some animals as pets, but others as dinner. Here’s Verónica Sevillano.

Sevillano: Hi. I am Verónica Sevillano and [am] a social and environmental psychologist at the Psychology College in Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. I was raised in the suburbs of Madrid, Spain. And, during my childhood, I was very close to environment in general, and to rural areas in Toledo in particular. I was a scout. I studied psychology, and I earned my PhD in Complutense University in Madrid on environmental concern, and basic social psychological processes. After my PhD, it was clear to me that I have to pursue it a postdoc abroad. And my specialization at the time was environmental psychology, but I wanted to be focused on basic social psychology. So I contacted Professor Susan Fiske at Princeton, and we applied for a postdoc Fulbright scholarship.

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