East Carolina University
Department of Psychology

Sharp, H. W., Wuensch, K. L., Eppler, M. A., & Harju, B. L.  (2006, April).  Narcissism, empathy, and attitudes towards animals.  Presented at the Spring Conference of the North Carolina Psychological Association and North Carolina Psychological Foundation,  Charlotte, NC.

In recent decades, researchers studied numerous variables in regards to their relationship with attitudes towards animals.  Several studies report a variety of variables with significant correlations to attitudes towards animals, including upbringing, religious affiliation, major, sex, sex-roles, empathy, and personality (Driscoll, 1992; Furnham, McManus, & Scott, 2003; Gallup & Beckstead, 1988; Hutchins & Armstrong, 1994; Kimball & Broida, 1991).

Hutchins and Armstrong (1994) found differences in attitudes towards animals between participants with urban versus rural upbringings, science and non-science majors, and men and women.  In another study, researchers manipulated the species used and the purpose of the animal use. (reference)  It was found that sex, pet ownership, religious affiliation, and age were correlated with a person’s attitudes towards animals, accounting for 5% of the variability.  Gallup and Beckstead (1988) found college students' major to be correlated with attitudes towards animals.  Also women were more concerned about animal pain and suffering than were men. 

Sex differences in attitudes to animals have frequently been reported.  Eldridge and Gluck (1996) found women more concerned, empathic, and willing to make sacrifices for animals, while men tended to look at the benefits to mankind.  Women and those with female sex roles (as indicated by the Bem Sex-Roles Inventory) oppose animal vivisection more than do men and those with male sex roles.(Broida, Tingley, Kimball, & Miele, 1993; Kimball & Broida, 1991).

Several personality traits have been associated with attitudes towards animals.  Kimball and Broida (1991) investigated the relationships between students’ personality profiles (using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), and attitudes to animals.  Among extraverts, sensate and thinking types were found to favor vivisection more than did intuitive and feeling types.

Broida et al. (1993) conducted another study that looked at personality aspects in relation to attitudes towards vivisection.  Students completed a survey composed of a number of inventories, including the Myers-Briggs-Type Inventory, Bem Sex-Roles Inventory, and the Animal Research Survey which measures empathy for animals and faith in science.  Intuitive and feeling types were more likely to oppose animal vivisection than their sensate and thinking counterparts. Extraverted sensate and/or thinking types were more likely to support vivisection than introverted intuitive and/or feeling types.  Findings also showed that more empathetic persons tended to oppose vivisection.

Furnham, McManus, and Scott (2003) also looked for links between personality and attitudes towards animals.  They examined how the Big Five (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness), empathy, and basic demographics were related to attitudes towards animals.  They found at least one of the four empathy subscales of Davis’ (1980) Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) to correlate with each Big Five factor, with the exception of Conscientiousness.  Those same personality traits were correlated with attitudes towards animals, with agreeableness being the best predictor.  Regressions showed that introverted, agreeable, vegetarian, women, with high scores on Davis' Empathic Concern and Personal Distress empathy subscales, were usually against animal use in research.

Australian researchers Taylor and Signal (2005) recently conducted aninvestigation of the relationship between empathy and attitudes towards animals.  The study used the IRI to measure empathy and the Animal Attitude Scale (AAS) to assess attitudes towards animal rights.  Results revealed that the Empathic-Concern subscale of the IRI significantly correlated with the AAS.  Women scored higher on both the Empathic-Concern subscale and the AAS score.  A multiple regression showed that Empathic-Concern and sex were both significant predictors of AAS scores, accounting for 13.7% of the variance.

Wuensch and Poteat (1998) found that out of the 315 college students that took part in their survey, 40% supported animal research used for cosmetics.  This is compared to 54% who supported animal use in medical research and 31% in theoretical research.  These findings left the current researcher with questions concerning the self-importance, entitlement, and lack of empathy that these college students may have experienced.  Self-importance, entitlement, and lack of empathy are three of the nine diagnostic criteria of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder as defined by the DSM-IV-TR (APA, 2000).  Many scholars, such as Lasch (1979), have argued that narcissism exists not only as a clinical entity but also as a less severe subclinical trait form.

Raskin and Hall (1979) developed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) with the intention of measuring narcissism in a non-clinical population.  Prifitera and Ryan (1984) administered the NPI to clinical populations including some patients diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  Scores on the NPI are higher for patients with NPD than those without the disorder.  The NPI has frequently been employed to measure narcissism in various non-clinical populations (e.g., Biscardi & Schill, 1985; Caroll, 1989; Munro, Bore, & Powis, 2005). 

In 1984, Emmons discovered the NPI contained four identifiable factors.  He labeled these factors Leadership/Authority (L/A), Self Absorption/Self-Admiration (S/S), Superiority/Arrogance (S/A), and Exploitiveness/Entitlement (E/E).  Other studies have reported finding and using these same factors (Biscardi & Schill, 1985; Lapsley & Aalsma, 2006; Watson, Grisham, Trotter, & Biderman 1984).

There are several reasons to expect that narcissism may be related to attitudes towards animals.  Empathy is known to be related to both narcissism and attitudes towards animals.  Biscardi and Schill (1985) studied 97 college men and found their scores on the NPI correlated with the Tolerance and Consideration subscale and the Social Self-confidence subscale of Hogan’s Scale for empathy (ref for Hogan’s scale).   In another study, negative correlations were observed between both the overall NPI and the E/E subscale with two measures of empathy (Watson et al., 1984).  Another study used the Interpersonal Reactivity Index to measure empathy and found the NPI to be significantly related to each of its subscales, but the correlation with the Fantasy subscale was found to be only half the strength of the others (Watson, Biderman, & Sawrie, 1994).

Both narcissism and attitudes towards animals have been reported to be significantly correlated with sex and sex roles.  Men score significantly higher on the NPI than do women (Carroll, 1987; Carroll, 1989; Watson et al. 1984; Watson et al. 1994).  Masculine groups also tend to have higher levels of narcissism than feminine or androgynous groups (Carroll, 1989; Watson, Biderman, & Boyd, 1989; Watson, et al. 1994).

Big Five personality factors have been shown to be related to both narcissism and attitudes towards animals.  Several studies have been conducted involving narcissism and it's relation with the Big Five.  Extraversion was found to have a positive correlation with narcissism (Biscardi & Schill, 1985; Bradlee & Emmons, 1992; Emmons, 1984; Lee & Ashton, 2005).  Findings also suggest that the entitlement subscale is associated with low agreeableness and high extraversion (Bradlee & Emmons, 1992; Exline, Baumeister, Bushman, Campbell, & Finkel, 2004).  Neuroticism and agreeableness share negative correlations with the total NPI (Bradlee & Emmons, 1992).  

The purpose of the present research was to examine the relationships among narcissism, empathy, sex, and attitudes towards animals.  Our prediction was that favorable attitudes to animals would be positively associated with empathy and being female and negatively associated with narcissism.



One hundred and seventy-two undergraduate psychology students (121 women and 51 men)  from East Carolina University participated in the study, a sample size sufficient to yield a power of 80% or more for detecting medium sized effects (d = .5, r = .3).  Undergraduate students made appointments to participate through the a research tracking system employed by the Department of Psychology.  Students arrived in small groups of up to thirty, and after the researcher reviewed participant rights and instructions, students had an ample hour and a half to complete the survey.  Ages ranged from 18 to 52, with an average age of 20.


The survey used consisted of three scales, measuring attitudes towards animals, empathy, and narcissism.  These scales were accompanied by demographic items measuring sex, age, race, class, major, pet importance, degree of vegetarianism, farm experience, and rural versus urban upbringing.

Past researchers have used a variety of instruments to measure attitudes towards animals (e.g., Driscoll, 1992; Fernham, McManus, & Scott, 2003; Herzog, Betchart, & Pittman, 1991).   We used the 28-item Animal Rights Scale (ARS) designed by Wuensch, Jenkins, and Poteat (2002).  This scale includes two subscales:  Support for Animal Rights Opposition to Animal Research.  Wuensch et al. reported the scale to have excellent reliability (.93).

The Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) was chosen to measure empathy because it is a multidimensional empathy inventory that measures both cognitive and emotional empathy.  Cognitive empathy is measured by the Perspective-Taking subscale (PT), designed to assess “the tendency to spontaneously adopt the psychological point of view of others in everyday life” (pp.113-114) and the Fantasy subscale (FS), designed to “tap respondents’ tendencies to transpose themselves imaginatively into the feelings and actions of fictitious characters in books, movies, and plays.” (p.114) Emotional empathy is composed of the Empathic Concern subscale (EC), which measures “the tendency to experience feelings of sympathy and compassion for unfortunate others” (p.114), and the Personal Distress subscale (PD), that assesses “feelings of personal anxiety and unease in tense interpersonal settings”. (p.114)  Research shows these subscales to be separate and valid (Davis, 1983).

Narcissism was measured using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) (Raskin & Hall, 1979).  The validity and reliability of this scale is well-established (Raskin & Terry, 1988)  Emmons (1984) ran a factor analysis on the NPI and found four factors he called Exploitativeness/Entitlement, Leadership/Authority, Superiority/Arrogance, and Self-absorption/Self-admiration.  In a latter study, Emmons (1987) examined each factor loading for the 56 questions of the NPI and found 17 questions with low loadings.  We chose to omit the questions with low loadings, leaving us with a 37 item instrument for the current study.


Researchers asked the participants to complete a study designed to assess individual differences and attitudes towards animals.  Participants received verbal instructions reminding them to read each section carefully and be sure to answer each question.


Initially we examined the reliability of each scale to insure its usefulness.  Acceptable Cronbach’s alphas were found for the Animal Rights Scale (α = 0.892), the Support for Animal Rights subscale (α = 0.843), and the Opposition to Animal Research subscale (α = 0.815).  Analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory showed the alpha of the overall scale to be acceptable (α = 0.842), but poor reliability for three of the four subscales caused us to totally disregard the subscales.  Examination of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index’s reliability revealed acceptable alphas for each of the four subscales.

Zero-order correlations between the ARS and several predictor variables are shown in Table 1.  Results showed significant positive relationships with being female, Perspective-Taking, pet importance, and cat preference.

Sex differences are summarized in Table 2.  Results showed women to have more supportive attitudes towards animals, and higher scores on each of the empathy subscales, with the exception of perspective-taking.  Men had higher levels of narcissism than did women.


Table 3 summarizes the relationships found between the ARS subscales and the predictor variables.  Narcissism significantly correlated with the Opposition to Animal Research subscale (-0.152, p>.05).  Perspective-Taking still held significant relationships with each subscale, though more strongly correlated with the Support for Animal Rights subscale (see Table 3).

Multiple regression analysis was employed to predict ARS from sex, narcissism, and each empathy subscale.  The resulting model accounted for 11% of the variance in ARS.  Only perspective taking and sex had significant partial effects.


Though results failed to support the hypothesis that narcissism is significantly related to overall attitudes towards animals, narcissism was positively correlated with support for animal research.  We found sex differences on narcissism and attitudes towards animals consistent with past research. (Broida et al. 1993; Carroll, 1989; Furnham et al. 2003)  The most interesting sex difference concerns women having significantly higher scores on every empathy subscale except for perspective-taking.  However, analysis revealed perspective-taking to be the only empathy measure related to attitudes towards animals, a finding somewhat inconsistent with past studies.   Furnham, McManus, and Scott (2003) collected data using IRI subscales and an attitudinal scale designed to measure attitudes towards animal use in medical and psychological research.  Results revealed empathic-concern and perspective-taking to be significantly related to the attitude scale, with empathic-concern being the strongest predictor.  Another researcher conducted a study using the IRI in order to investigate empathy and attitudes to animals (Taylor & Signal, 2005).  Taylor collected attitudinal data using the Animal Attitude Scale, which is designed to assess pro-welfare attitudes to animals.  Analysis uncovered only empathic-concern related to attitudes towards animals. 

Clearly there is uncertainty as to whether cognitive or emotional empathy is related to attitudes towards animals.  One should point out though, that each study investigating this question has used different measures of attitudes to animals.  Future research is needed to determine the specific relationship between the multiple facets of both empathy and attitudes towards animals.


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This page most recently revised on 8. May 2006.