Reports of severe physical punishment and exposure to animal cruelty by inmates convicted of felonies and by university students

Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Jan;21(1):59-82. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(96)00131-7.


A self-report questionnaire designed to assess abusive childhood environments and exposure to animal cruelty was administered to 314 inmates in a prisoner classification center. Although high rates of physical punishment characterized the entire sample, persons charged with violent, but nonhomicidal crimes reported more severely punitive childhood histories than those charged with homicidal crimes, sex offenses, and nonviolent offenses. Some exposure to animal cruelty was widespread in the sample, but there was no association between experiencing animal cruelty and the type of crime committed. Moreover, there were only modest associations between animal cruelty experiences and the aversive childhood histories of the subjects, as well as the subjects' reported use of physical and sexual coercion in dating and intimate relationships. To determine whether the high base rate of exposure to animal cruelty was unique to the incarcerated sample, a follow-up study was completed with university undergraduates. Widespread exposure to some animal cruelty was reported by undergraduates; there were modest associations between reporting animal cruelty and reporting punitive and acrimonious childhood histories. In general, the findings were consistent with the hypothesis that there is an association between punitive childhood histories and antisocial behavior but not consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to animal cruelty is importantly related to antisocial behavior or child maltreatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animal Rights*
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology
  • Crime / psychology*
  • Female
  • Homicide / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality Development*
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Punishment*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Offenses / psychology
  • Social Environment
  • Students / psychology*
  • Violence / psychology