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The Psychology of the Furry Subculture
2019-01-07 15:58:12
Oliver Smith

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In the photo: Humans dressed in a furry animal costume, trend practice called Furry/Furries / Photo by: GreenReaper via Wikimedia Commons

Furries are the product of a broadly misunderstood yet steadily proliferating subculture.People in the U.S.can often attest to seeing others walking around town dressed up as giant, furry animals, and people tend to draw a wide range of conclusions regarding this trend and those who indulge in it.Media has brandished conjectures about their being simply unhinged freaks or even participants in some sort of kinky fetish.

A team of international social scientists, however, has recently concluded through study that the furry subculture is actually a grassroots support system seemingly sponsored not by an entity somewhere but by mimetic, common behavior manifesting independently in each person.Furries are not suggestible people being introduced to a cult, group, or Internet phenomenon that convinces them to behave this way; rather, they feel socially compelled to behave this way and have all gravitated to one another after the fact to bond over their mutual disdain for those who ostracize them for what is, in fact, a natural behavior.

Furries are just as enthusiastic about their culture as sports fans are about sports, but they take a lot of flak for dressing the way they do whereas sports are really institutions that encourage that kind of passion as normal behavior.Furries typically connect with one another via online forums, message boards and chat clients; there, they simply talk and exchange info the way other fan factions tend to do.

The research team considers these Furries to primarily be outsiders to an extent, socially excluded people who are around 50 percent more liable to report having been bullied in childhood than average people would. “Perhaps the most fascinating thing that a decade of research on furries can tell us is that, in the end, furries are no different than anyone else—they have the same need to belong, need to have a positive and distinct sense of self, and need for self-expression,” says social psychologist Courtney Plante who served as lead analyst and co-founder of the research project.

“Furries, in other words, are just like you—but with fake fur!” Plante exclaims.She describes their society as providing a measurable, observable boon to self-defense for those whose social standing might otherwise weaken their resolve apropos of standing up for oneself.Ultimately, it is a cultural bastion for self-worth. “Depending on the media you consume, you may also know them as ‘the people who think they’re animals and have a weird fetish for fur,’” Plante describes.

“Or, just as likely, you have never heard the term ‘furry’ before outside the context of your pet dog or the neighbor with the back hair who mows his lawn without a shirt on every Saturday.” Furry subculture is yet another niche akin to sports fandom, Japanese anime fandom (Otaku culture) or gamer culture.Plante says furries are “fans of media that features anthropomorphic animals—that is, animals who walk, talk, and do otherwise human things.

One of the social attributes on which the researchers have honed in is that of stark inclusivity in comparison to most known social groups.The community is broadly inclusive, which is illustrated by furries being estimated in the study as approximately seven times more likely than members of the general public to identify as transgender.The data also found furries to be five times as liable to identify as anything other than heterosexual.

Plante says, “This fandom embraces norms of being welcoming and non-judgmental to all,” which are attributes that have proven to be a positively powerful social trends around which to build such a social group.Plante also makes sure to debunk the innumerable misconceptions about furries perpetuated by media.He and his team say media mischaracterizes furries without any substantive data to prove their claims.Two of the most common mischaracterizations, according to Plante and colleagues, are that furries are either psychologically dysfunctional or fetishists.

Furries, of course, tend to be shy about addressing media because of the constant mischaracterizations such as the notion that they enjoy sexual gratification from dressing as mascots. “About 15 to 20 percent of furries wear elaborate costumes called ‘fursuits’ in much the same way anime fans cosplay as their favorite characters,” Plante explains. “However, unlike anime, furries are often assumed to engage in fursuiting for sexual reasons, despite the fact that this is very rarely the case.”

Plante also adds: “At first glance, it seems like anthropomorphic animals are a bizarre thing to be a fan of.That is, until you realize that most North Americans today grew up watching Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny cartoons and reading books like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Charlotte’s Web, and continue this proud tradition by taking our children to see films like Zootopia.”

Plante and his colleagues found that furries tend to be major fans as well as scrutinizing critics of films like Disney’s Robin Hood, Zootopia; videogames like Pokémon and Night in the Woods.The team describes the furry community as predominately male, young and White, and they tend to be so-called “dudes” in their mid-20s or teens.Plante and colleagues report that close to half of them are college students with above-average grades; shared passions for fantasy, anime, videogames and science fiction; and common interests in science and computers.Plante and his team also interviewed several furries who described the fandom “as one of the first places where they felt like they could belong,” according to Plante.

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