A. Almeida1, C. Vasconcelos2, I. Rodrigues3

1Lisbon Higher School of Education / Center of Geology of University of Oporto (PORTUGAL)
2University of Porto, Unit of Science Teaching, Centre of Geology, Faculty of Sciences (PORTUGAL)
3University of the Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) (PORTUGAL)
It is important to identify people´s perceptions about animals because they influence their attitudes and behaviours to them. Based on a national survey, Kellert (1989) was a pioneer in analysing the perceptions of animals by the North Americans. To verify the perceptions that Portuguese children have about several animals, a questionnaire similar to the Kellert’s one was designed. The questionnaire listed twenty-five animals and included a seven point like/dislike scale for each animal and asked a reason for each ranking.

The questionnaire was applied to 88 children (48 boys and 40 girls), attending the 3rd and 4th year of a primary school in the suburban area of Lisbon (Portugal). The reasons for liking or disking each animal were coded in categories.
The most liked animals by the children were the worse and the dog, the tortoise, the sparrow, and the butterfly. The reasons for liking horses and dogs were very similar. Most of them emphasise aspects of their behaviour, respectively running fast and be docile and gentle. In the case of the tortoise, the most mentioned reason was the fact that it is beautiful, especially its shell. Aspects of its behavior pleased the children, like the fact that it can swim well and hides in its shell. The sparrow was described as being cute. Finally, the butterfly was described as having very pretty patterns.

The animals that children said they liked less were three insects: the cockroach, the mosquito and the bee; the snake and the mouse. The cockroach was considered nasty and even a useless animal. In the case of the mosquito, they pointed out the fact that it bites us. The snake was classified as dangerous. The mouse was also considered nasty, because it runs through the sewers, and it can transmit diseases. However, a quarter of the children’s sample said that mice are funny animals and a few expressed their appreciation for those that we can have at home. Finally, the bee, although many children stressed the fact that it produces honey, received mostly negative opinions because it stings us.

The five with the highest std. deviation the bat, the mouse (for the reasons explained), the boar, the wolf, and the shark. For some, the bat is cute and the fact that it hangs upside-down is especially appreciated; for others, it is a frightening animal that sucks blood. The boar is described as ugly, and the fact that it rolls in the mud is considered a dirty habit. Its tusks receive opposite opinions; for the majority of the children they are a dangerous tool but some think they are funny. The wolf is considered a beautiful animal, but the danger for us is often mentioned. The shark is also considered to be dangerous but, for some, it’s a curious animal.

The results of this study show that it is important to approach in primary school the perceptions and attitudes of humans to different animals, in the believe that school can have a role in changing some of the inconsistencies of human behavior. Because the reasons given by children frequently reflect the lack of knowledge about certain behaviours of the animals and of their ecological role, these are also important dimensions that should be approached.

Kellert, S. (1989).Perceptions of Animals in America.In R. J. Hoage (Ed.).Perceptions of Animals in American Culture (pp. 5-24). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.