The following literature review is a functional analytic approach to reviewing existing research on animal cruelty behavior. First, both legal and research-related difficulties associated with developing a consistent definition of animal cruelty are discussed. Existing assessments and treatments of animal cruelty are also discussed. Functional analysis is defined and its utility in animal cruelty research is discussed. Specifically, the argument is made that functional analyses in animal cruelty research will allow for a better understanding of the variables that predict and lead to the maintenance of animal cruelty behavior. This analysis will lead to development of treatments that directly target the problem behavior in an effective and efficient manner. The research in this review is organized among three hypothesized functions: 1) engaging in the behavior for one’s own intrinsic entertainment; 2) a means of strengthening one’s existing aggressive tendencies; 3) taking anger toward a human out on a more vulnerable being.
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