UPEI Canada Research Chair in Veterinary Social Epidemiology awarded SSHRC Insight Grant
Dr. Caroline Ritter, Canada Research Chair in Veterinary Social Epidemiology at UPEI, has been awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant totaling $212,060 for a project titled “An application of cognitive dissonance theory to decisions affecting animal welfare.”
“Veterinary practitioners and animal guardians are regularly confronted with difficult decisions including having to balance animal welfare against other (financial and/or non-financial) considerations,” said Ritter. “These decisions often place veterinarians and animal guardians in a state of cognitive dissonance (i.e., a state of intra-personal conflict and negative affect); for example, when making decisions on whether to euthanize an animal.”
Cognitive dissonance theory is now considered to be one of the cornerstone theories of social psychology, she said. However, knowledge gaps still exist for a full understanding of cognitive dissonance and its relationship to the mental well-being of veterinarians and animal guardians.
“In the animal welfare context, understanding the arousal and reduction of cognitive dissonance, and how the veterinarian-client relationship affects this, is very limited.”
Ritter said that the knowledge gained through this project will also have practical applications. The information gained from the project could be used to develop or enhance professional skills training that will better equip veterinarians to deal with their own and clients’ experiences when they have to make difficult decisions associated with the care of animals.
“Exploring the extent to which recurring cognitive dissonance plays into the reported mental health crisis of veterinarians and livestock farmers, and what factors can reduce cognitive dissonance, will inform strategies that foster improved mental well-being.”
In addition to the SSHRC grant, Dr. Ritter also received $30,000 from the AVC Graduate Student Stipend Support Fund.
“On behalf of UPEI, I congratulate Dr. Ritter on securing this SSHRC Insight Grant,” said Dr. Greg Naterer, vice-president academic and research. “Dr. Ritter’s research will have significant benefits to animal welfare and contribute to UPEI’s growing profile of excellence in research.”
UPEI acknowledges the assistance of Canada’s tri-council of federal granting agencies (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)) through its Research Support Fund (RSF), which helps fund services and infrastructure that support research activities at the University. In 2023–2024, UPEI was allocated $931,234.00 from the RSF.