Non-Speciesist Language Conveys Moral Commitments to Animals and Evokes Do-Gooder Derogation


  • Stefan Leach Orcid
  • Kristof Dhont Orcid


The use of non-speciesist language, such as referring to non-human animals as ‘someone’ instead of ‘something’, is a simple way for individuals to recognize animals’ moral standing. However, little is known about how this language is perceived and whether it may lead to do-gooder derogation. We conducted three studies involving adults in the United Kingdom (n = 1409) and found that omnivores, semi-vegetarians, and lacto-/ovo-vegetarians were less likely to want to get to know someone who used non-speciesist language. Omnivores were especially apprehensive and also saw them as less compassionate. Strict vegetarians and vegans were more positive, viewing someone who used non-speciesist language as more compassionate. Vegans were particularly so, being the only group to report greater interest in getting to know someone who used non-speciesist language. All groups, irrespective of their diet, thought that non-speciesist language communicated arrogance, an avoidance of meat, and rejection of the idea that humans take moral precedence over other animals. These effects were strongest for language that avoided euphemizing the suffering of animals and weakest for language that did not objectify them. Our findings highlight the social implications of using non-speciesist language and demonstrate how it can be a pathway through which do-gooder derogation may occur in everyday life. By doing so, they contribute to understanding how people perceive those with moral commitments to animals and the challenges facing those who want to reduce animal product consumption and improve animal welfare.