Is it possible that the propensity to choose human beings over animals when it comes to saving either of the two develops later in children? According to a recent study by Matti Wilks and colleagues published in Psychological Science, the answer to the above question is, yes. Two pre-registered studies on children aged between 5 to 9 and adults (N = 622) showed that children had a weaker propensity to prioritize humans over animals than adults. In the studies, subjects were presented with dilemmas of moral decision-making, where a number of human beings were pitted against a number of animals (either dogs or pigs), and were asked to decide who should you save. It was found that in both studies children exhibited a weaker propensity, as compared to adults, to prioritize the humans over safety of dogs as much as saving 100 dogs and 10 pigs over 1 human. This shows that children considered the life of a dog as important as the life of a human. However, almost every adult chose to save the life of one human over 100 dogs or pigs. According to the authors, their findings reveal that the idea that humans are more valuable than animals is acquired much late in the development process and could be a result of social learning.


Wilks, M., Caviola, L., Kahan, G. et. al. (2020). “Children Prioritize Humans Over Animals Less than Adults Do.” Psychological Science.


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