Inside the hunting mind – How fox hunters delude themselves

tfh blocked south street

It’s a crime. But you still go out twice a week to either commit it, support it, or watch it. That’s what fox hunters do.

It has been illegal to hunt wild mammals with packs of dogs since 2004, but the UK’s fox hunts carry on regardless. As the 20th anniversary of the Hunting Act 2004 approaches and the slaughter carries on, it’s useful to decode what’s going on inside the hunting mind.

Inside the murky minds of fox hunters

David McRaney’s excellent book You Are Not So Smart reveals the delusions we’re all at risk of falling for. The critical thinkers amongst us know about them and do our best to avoid them. The hunting fraternity clearly doesn’t. So which of McRaney’s reasons for not being so smart apply to fox hunters?

Confabulation in the fox hunting community

Like all of us, fox hunters are often ignorant of their own motivations, creating fictional narratives to explain their decisions and emotions. Confabulation lets them lie to themselves about hunting being popular, acceptable, legal, or a tradition people value.

Fox hunter Confirmation Bias

Hunters have bizarre opinions because they only take notice of information that confirms their beliefs. They ignore the vast amount of information that doesn’t just challenge their opinions, it demolishes them.

Brand Loyalty in fox hunting

Fox hunters think their decision to hunt foxes is rational. But they’re rationalising a bad decision because they want to protect their sense of self. It isn’t rational to slaughter foxes when fox hunting has been a crime for two decades and British wildlife is in steep decline.

Hunters and the Argument From Authority

When we respect someone, we also tend to respect their opinions. Hunters believe what their leaders say because they’re powerful, own land, have lived in the area for generations, are rich, belligerent, or have always hunted. While adults have a choice around who they take notice of, children don’t. It’s sad to see so many young hunters put at risk of a criminal record by their parents.

This is similar to Conformity, where hunters buckle under the influence of an authority figure because conforming with their community is a survival instinct.

Hunts and cults

Hunters probably think they’re too smart to join a cult – but hunts and cults are similar. You can find out about the definition of cults here.

The Affect Heuristic in hunting

Rather than figuring it out logically, people who hunt depend on their emotions to tell them if something is good or bad. They over-estimate the rewards they get from their actions and like to stick rigidly to first impressions. When your thinking is this skewed and limited, you can’t make good decisions.

Much the same goes for the Anchoring Effect, where a hunter’s original decision that it’s OK to kill wildlife affects the decisions they make later.

Fox hunt members who fall for the Third Person Effect

Hunters believe their opinions are based on experience and facts. They think people who hate hunting are the victims of lies and propaganda. But the facts speak to a huge disconnect between what hunters want to believe and the truth; around 90% of people across the UK hate fox hunting, whatever poll or research you look at.

This is similar to Embodied Cognition, where hunters believe their opinions of people and events are objective. In fact they do what we all do unless we’re aware enough to avoid it – they translate their physical world into words, then they believe their own words.

How the Representative Heuristic affects hunters

Hunters think people who hate hunting are unwashed, unemployed benefits claimants who don’t understand ‘country ways’. In fairness we do the same. We think hunters are criminals. The thing is, when you examine all the evidence we’re actually right. And they’re genuinely wrong 😉

The link between sociopathy and fox hunting

To cap David McRaney’s excellent insights, we’re adding sociopathy to the mix. Normal people don’t hurt animals. Sociopaths are different. They have very little empathy and no sense of morality. They like to rationalise their actions but they know the difference between right and wrong. They’re low in emotional intelligence and find it hard to admit their mistakes, let alone learn from them. They show a lack of concern for the safety of others and tend to intimidate and threaten people because they want to be in control. It all sounds a lot like the people who ride with, support and follow fox hunts.

As Psychology Today says, “A study conducted in the early 2000s found that 6.2% of the general population would meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder and 3.7% would meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder. These conditions officially capture the maladaptive behaviour we refer to as sociopathy.”

You might be a sociopath. You can’t help what you are. But you can help what you do.

Fox hunting and a lack of respect for the law

Finally, there’s one thing nobody can argue with. It’s a fact: hunting foxes is a crime. It can land you with a criminal record. And landowners who let it happen on their property can also be prosecuted.



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