Scottish SPCA’s important research on preventing animal cruelty in young people published in influential journal

The Scottish SPCA and the University of Edinburgh’s in-depth research on tackling animal cruelty in young people has been published in the influential Psychology, Crime and Law journal.

EducationScotland’s animal welfare charity is dedicated to the prevention of animal cruelty through education and together with the University of Edinburgh, conduct important research to assess and help shape intervention programmes.

Due to the sensitive nature of the subject, research into cruelty towards animals in childhood had previously been sparse and not isolated to when it first becomes apparent in early life. This paper is based on research by the University of Edinburgh that evaluated the Scottish SPCA’s animal welfare education programmes: ‘Prevention through Education’.

Professor Jo Williams from the University of Edinburgh who led the research stated: ‘We conducted a study with over 1,000 primary school children across Scotland measuring a range of factors around children’s knowledge of animals, attitudes towards animals, and their behaviour towards animals. Due to the difficulties of asking children directly about their cruelty behaviour we were particularly interested in their attitudes about animal cruelty, as a less stigmatising approach to the topic. We found that children who are more attached to pets and who have a greater understanding that animals have minds and can think and feel emotions held attitudes that cruelty to animals was not acceptable.  This is an important step in cruelty prevention because it indicates what knowledge and beliefs we need to target through education to reduce childhood animal cruelty.’

Dr Roxanne Hawkins, from the University of West Scotland, who led on this paper, highlighted that ‘There are many different methods we use to measure whether children believe animals are sentient beings and to measure their attitudes towards animal cruelty, which may give us an indication of future risk for cruelty behaviour.  We look at both intentional and unintentional cruelty cases towards animals, as these need different interventions.’

Scottish SPCA head of education and policy Gilly Mendes Ferreira said:

‘The Scottish SPCA believes the heart of preventing animal cruelty is education.  We reach around 245,000 school children each year to promote positive interactions with animals and for young people to recognise that animals are sentient beings.


This research highlights that attitudes that animal cruelty is acceptable are likely to predict animal cruelty behaviour. By developing education programmes that tackle knowledge and attitudes we can reduce cruelty and promote children’s compassionate behaviour to animals.’

‘Thanks to the University of Edinburgh, we will continue evaluating the impact our programmes are having on attitudes towards animals, recognising them as sentient beings and overall preventing animal cruelty and neglect.

 ‘To raise awareness of children’s cruelty to animals among a range of professions the Scottish SPCA and the University of Edinburgh are organising a conference on the link between animal cruelty and human violence in September 2019: “The Link Between Animals Cruelty, Adverse Childhood Experiences and Human Violence: Research and Practice”. If you work with children and/or animals and wish to further your understanding of children’s cruelty to animals we encourage you to come and find out more.’

Tickets are still available so please click on this link:

School girl with Scottish SPCA helmet on

Education programme

We spoke to more than 245,000 children in 2018 through our Prevention through Eduation programme