The impact of cartoon animals on mind perception, moral standing, and cuteness : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand

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Increased public interest in the conservation of endangered animals is critical for the continued survival of many threatened and endangered species around the world. However, our understanding of what influences public interest in endangered animals is limited. Previous research found correlational evidence suggesting cartoon animals can increased public interest and conservation support of endangered animals. The current study aimed to examine the physical and psychological characteristics of endangered animals that may lead to increase public interest. Specifically, we examined how cartoons and cuteness affected mind perception and moral standing of endangered animals. We also explored other potential predictors of moral standing. Six hundred and twenty eight participants from the United States (aged 18-81 years) were recruited via Prolific. Participants were randomly assigned one of 16 images depicting a cartoon or photo image of one of four endangered animals endemic to New Zealand. Mind perception, moral standing, cuteness, and general impression measures were administered. We found that while cartoon images had no impact on mind perception or moral standing compared to photo images, cuteness positively predicted attributions of mind perception and moral standing. An exploratory factor analysis extracted three factors of mind perception: sociality, autonomy, and fundamentality. Multiple linear regression modelling found that cuteness, sociality, and fundamentality positively predicted moral standing attributions of endangered animals. Furthermore, we found evidence to suggest that cuteness and beauty are related but distinct characteristics that impact moral standing attributions. Our results are consistent with previous research that supports an association between cuteness and general positive interactions with animals. Additionally, cuteness, sociality, fundamentality, and beauty were found to inform moral standing attributions of endangered animals. Our findings highlight the utility of cuteness to inform conservation goals of endangered animals via mind perception and moral standing. These results may help conservationists to identify more effective strategies to increase public interest in endangered animals.
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