VIII. Bronies

8.1 Prevalence

Bronies are fans of the animated television series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The brony fandom is, in many ways, comparable to the furry fandom for its interest in anthropomorphized animal characters (not unlike the furry fandom’s association with series such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Disney movies such as The Lion King or Robin Hood, etc.). In fact, based on its content, some have argued that the brony fandom is a subset of the furry fandom. Conversely, others argue that since some bronies’ interest in anthropomorphism is specific only to My Little Pony, the fandom should be considered related to, but distinct from, the furry fandom.

There has been a tremendous demand, from both bronies and from the broader furry fandom, for research on bronies (so much so, in fact, that another research team has conducted extensive research on the subject from a non-furry perspective: The reasons for this demand differ greatly: but often involve the perceived similarities and differences between furries and bronies. Regardless, the IARP has sought to address this interest in information about bronies, beginning by assessing the prevalence of bronies in the furry fandom.

With the popularity of My Little Pony in recent years, many furries have observed that there seems to be an influx of bronies into the furry fandom. Studies have suggested that in recent years, between 16% and 25% of furries self-identify as bronies.🐾 While it is possible that the majority of these furries are “new furries,” it would represent a fairly significant influx of furries into the fandom (a growth of nearly 25% in just the two or three years since the most recent version of the show began airing). And, in fact, the data seem to challenge this hypothesis: the average brony in the furry fandom has, in fact, been a furry for significantly longer than the average non-brony furry (9.4 years vs. 8.3 years) and became a furry at a younger age than non-brony furries (16.4 years vs. 17.4). Taken together, the data suggest that the prevalence of bronies in the furry fandom are not due to bronies “invading” the furry fandom from the outside, but rather the popularity of the show seems to have resonated with a significant portion of the furry population.

8.2 Attitudes toward Bronies

Given that upward of one-quarter of the furry fandom may self-identify as a brony,🐾 and given that furries, themselves, experience a significant amount of stigma from the general population,🐾 it’s worth asking whether bronies and furries hold negative attitudes toward one another, or whether they get along due to a shared experience of stigma from popular culture (bronies are often mocked for their tendency to eschew traditional gender norms and their interest in a show targeted toward a younger audience).

8-2 attitude toward bronies
This first figure presents the results of one study where furries and bronies were asked to rate how positively or negatively they felt about bronies, as a group.🐾 They were asked to provide this rating on a scale of 0 (extremely negative) to 100 (extremely positive). The data show that while bronies (unsurprisingly) felt positively about bronies, furries had mixed feelings:

17% rated bronies extremely negatively, 23% felt very ambivalent, and 7% felt extremely positively. While the average rating was “50” for the furry participants, this was the product of very polarized views, not of overall ambivalence of the fandom toward bronies.

8-2 attitude toward bronies by sample
In another study🐾 we asked furries and bronies to rate their attitudes toward furries, bronies, and non-furries (i.e., the average person). This would allow us to test whether the negativity furries indicated toward bronies was directed at bronies in particular or toward any non-furry group specifically. The data show that furries and bronies did not significantly differ with regard to their ratings of furries and non-furries. Replicating the above finding, furries rated bronies significantly more negatively than bronies did. Most relevant, however, was the fact that furries also rated bronies significantly more negatively than they did the average non-furry, suggesting that their negative attitudes were specific to the brony fandom, and not just to anyone who was not a furry.

8.3 Stigma Justification

While there are many furries who hold positive opinions of bronies, it raises the question of why so many furries feel negatively (or at least ambivalent) toward bronies. We asked participants, if they held a negative attitude toward bronies, to indicate why they felt that way.🐾 These responses were coded and fell into a few commonly held themes:

— 17.4%: They’re obnoxious, excessive, or attempt to force their culture on others
— 15.0%: They’re just not the same as furries
— 13.0%: Just a general dislike for them
— 12.3%: Don’t dislike the culture itself, but dislike specific bronies
— 11.9%: It’s unimaginative, a fad, shallow, or one-dimensional
— 11.5%: It’s silly, dumb, or immature

It seems that there are at least a few commonly held complaints or opinions regarding bronies and brony culture. In future studies it may be possible to test the tenants of some of these beliefs, to determine whether there is any merit to the complaints or stereotypes of the brony fandom. In the meantime, it is worth noting, with perhaps a touch of sad irony, that many of these same complaints are complaints that have been leveled at the furry fandom by non-furries (demonstrating that it is still quite possible for members of a stigmatized minority group to, themselves, stigmatize others).

8.4 Furry/Brony Distinction

As mentioned elsewhere,🐾 part of the animosity felt toward bronies may have to do with the belief that bronies as “invading” the furry fandom, a fandom which, past research has shown, is particularly important to the identity of many furries.🐾 Evidence suggests there may be some truth to this claim: about 22% of furries claim that there is absolutely no overlap between the furry fandom and the brony fandom—that they are two distinct entities. In contrast, 28% of furries say that there is at least some overlap between the furry fandom and the brony fandom, and fully 50% of furries claim that the brony fandom is a part of or subset of the furry fandom.🐾

This data suggests that, far from being a clear-cut issue, many furries may disagree about the location of the brony fandom relative to the furry fandom—a non-trivial distinction. Research in social psychology suggests that seeing a person or a group as belonging to a group that you, yourself, belong to (your “ingroup”) leads you to hold a more favorable impression of that group. Whether or not bronies are considered furries may have a considerable impact on the positivity felt toward them; one analysis revealed that the extent to which a person considered bronies to be a part of the furry fandom also predicted how positivity they felt toward bronies, lending support to this idea.🐾

8.5 Furry/Brony Similarities and Differences

The controversy surrounding bronies in the furry fandom have led some to discuss whether the two groups are distinctly different or whether they have more in common than they have differences. To put it another way, it’s worth asking whether the distinction between a furry and a brony a meaningful one, or whether it is simply a description of a difference in taste.

The data have suggested at least three statistically significant differences between furries and bronies. First, it seems that, compared to furries, bronies are, on average, in worse physical health. Admittedly, the reasoning for this difference in physical health was unexpected and, for the moment, has escaped our ability to explain, though future research may help shed light on this difference (and whether it is a consistent one). A second difference is that, compared to furries, bronies have a less-formed sense of identity, though this difference is quite small.

Finally, the data suggest that, on average, bronies experienced greater amounts of bullying than did furries, although both groups experienced significant bullying, especially in their childhood years.🐾 While the differences in bullying between furries and bronies are consistent throughout their lives (under age 10, during the teenage years, and into adulthood), the difference is most prominent during the ages of 19-24, which indicates that many bronies experience significant bullying as a result of their self-identification as bronies (given that, due to the show only recently coming on the air, they could not identify as a brony until recently). Whether or not a history of being bullied is one of the factors that drove bronies to self-identify with other bronies remains to be seen in future research.

While the data have shown that there are small differences between furries and bronies, the vast majority of analyses revealed that, for the most part, furries and bronies share most things in common. There are no age or sex differences between the groups, nor are there differences in sexual orientation, relationship status, relationship satisfaction, or education level between furries and bronies. The groups do not differ in the extent to which they identify as a furry, identify with other furries, or identify with their fursona species. Furries and bronies do not differ in the extent to which they believe they are less than 100% human, nor are they differently likely to wish they were 0% human. Both furries and bronies in the furry fandom hold the furry community in equally high regard, and they do not differ in terms of their psychological well-being or self-esteem.

In sum, with only a few minor exceptions, furries and bronies are relatively indistinguishable from one another beyond the differences in the content of their fandom.