Belief humans are distinct from animals linked to sexist attitudes toward women

Psychologists have found that the desire to perceive humans as distinct from other animals is linked to the endorsement of sexist beliefs.

The study, published in the journal Feminism & Psychology, surveyed 148 male college students regarding their beliefs about women, meaning in life, and the relationship between humans and animals. The more the students believed that humans were distinct from and superior to other animals, the more they endorsed sexist attitudes about women. Students who believed in greater belief in animal–human distinctiveness and had a stronger feeling that their life was meaningful.

PsyPost interviewed Christina Roylance of North Dakota State University about her study. Read her responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Roylance: This topic represents an integration between my two main areas of interest–existential psychology, and issues related to sexism and the objectification of women. I am interested in how and why people are motivated to find and maintain a sense of meaning in life. Often, people’s avenues for pursuing meaning are not always positive or healthy. On the other hand, I am very interested in what might motivate people to hold derogatory views towards women. I believe that terror management perspective can provide answers to both of those questions. The idea that attitudes towards human-animal continuity being related not only to meaning in life, but to sexism were inspired by the terror management framework.

What should the average person take away from your study?

The basic takeaway is that attitudes regarding human uniqueness and superiority appear to be associated with meaning and life, as well as sexism, at least among men. This indicates that these attitudes can contribute to meaning (feeling that we are superior as a species is definitely meaning-providing), but it might be at the cost of also holding derogatory attitudes towards women. An understanding of TMT can help us understand how these seemingly unrelated attitudes contribute to both of these outcomes.

Basically, it is the notion that women’s bodies are threatening to our pursuit to feel meaningful and death-transcendent, because their role in reproduction reminds us of our connection to animality and our corporeal, mortal nature. Therefore, being more attached to the notion of human distinctiveness could presumably lead to negative attitudes towards women, despite conferring meaning benefits.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

It would be very interesting to see if this effect replicates among women. I focused on men in this study because obviously men tend to be higher in self-reported sexism. Would belief in human distinctiveness lead to more sexist attitudes among women? Can a woman derive meaning from these attitudes, despite the fact that it might be at the expense of having internalized notions of sexism, or possibly self-directed hatred?

By on October 23, 2016

The study, “I am not an animal but I am a sexist: Human distinctiveness, sexist attitudes towards women, and perceptions of meaning in life,” was co-authored by Andrew A. Abeyta and Clay Routledge.

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4 thoughts on “Belief humans are distinct from animals linked to sexist attitudes toward women”

  1. Surely this is just an example of a correlation with no causation? People who have a more progressive view in one area of life or often more likely to follow suit in other areas. Sexism is the trait of an idiot, it wouldn’t surprise me then these people would also believe in ideas of Social Darwinism and in many cases were deeply homophobic. This doesn’t mean they’re linked as well… or have I misunderstood this whole thing? Still interesting, thanks for the post 🙂

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  2. Thank you for posting this. Makes a lot of sense. I am currently reading a book called The Myth Of Human Supremacy written by Derrick Jensen. I would like to share an excerpt (page 27-28) from that book that I find to fit with this narrative quite a bit.

    “One of the most harmful notions of Western Civilization–and one of the most foundational–is that of the Great Chain Of Being, or Latin *scala naturae* (which literally means ‘ladder or stairway of nature’), closely related to the divine rights of kings. It is a hierarchy of perfection, with God at the top, then angels, then kings, then priests, then men, then women, then mammals, then birds, and so on, through plants, then precious gems, then other rocks, then sand. It’s a profoundly body-hating notion, as, according to those who articulated the hierarchy, those at the top–the perfect–are pure spirit; and those at the bottom–the imperfect, the corrupt–are pure matter, pure body. Then both men and women live in a battleground of spirit and body, with men tending to be put more in the box of representing mind/spirit/better/perfected, and women tending to be put more in the box representing body/life/death/corruption/imperfection. In this construct, humans are the centre of attention, with those above humans being bodiless and perfected, and those below being fully embodied, imperfect, and having no mind. Of course, within each category there are sub-categories. So civilized man is fare more perfected than ‘primitive’ man, who is barely removed from animals. You see this hierarchy everywhere within this culture, only now as we’ve secularized we’ve gotten rid of God and angels, leaving civilized (especially white) men at the top. And of course, those at the top get to use those below however they want. For example, men have access to the bodies of women, because men are higher on the hierarchy than women.”

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  3. Reblogged this on Kærry Redwood Atjecoutay and commented:
    Psychologists have found that the desire to perceive humans as distinct from other animals is linked to the endorsement of sexist beliefs. The study, published in the journal Feminism & Psychology, surveyed 148 male college students regarding their beliefs about women, meaning in life, and the relationship between humans and animals. [ 453 more words ]
    https://veganarchoprimitivism.com/…/belief-humans-are-distin…

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