What is it about?
Notions about the capacity of animals to experience human-like mental states follow a scala naturae in which animals considered more similar to humans are credited with a greater capacity to experience these. However, studies have also shown that people believe that animals are more able to experience emotions when compared to more intentional and reflective states of the mind. We contend that the first ones differ from the second in that they have more conspicuous behavioral expressions. Hence, emotions can be “seen”, whereas the ability to plan or deceive, will mostly be inferred by using the overall similarity of animals to humans or some other related indicator. In this study -carried out with an urban sample from Mexico City and a rural sample of Mayans from Yucatán- we aimed to identify why some animals are considered more human-like and why some mental states are attributed to them more than others.
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Why is it important?
Mind attribution plays a key role in the moral standing of both people and animals, and more generally, in the way humans relate and connect to the surrounding world. It has been found that the capacity to experience emotions places both people and animals as recipients of moral rights, whereas the capacity to engage in reflective thinking confers agents a higher moral responsibility toward others. Understanding how these perceptions or judgments arise might also help us to elucidate the origin and expression of moral perception and the motivation of this behavior.
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This page is a summary of: Human-Animal Similarity and the Imageability of Mental State Concepts for Mentalizing Animals, Journal of Cognition and Culture, July 2022, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15685373-12340133.
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