While the definition of therian may differ depending on who you ask, it can be loosely defined as people who identify with a non-human animal (see 7.2, Animal Identification for more on this). Knowing the prevalence and characteristics of therians is important in our research on furries, as furries and therians are often conflated in media discussions of furries, which frequently leads to misconceptions about what furries actually are.🐾
In our studies, we typically avoid imposing a definition on participants, allowing them to decide for themselves if they identify with the term, whatever it means to them. We present participants with lists of terms (e.g., furry, therian, otherkin, brony) and ask them to check off any boxes that apply to them. The result is a sample consisting of furries who do not identify as therians, furries who also identify as therian, and therians who do not identify as furries.
Across samples, the proportion of participants who identify as therian typically ranges from 11% to 17%. 🐾 Further breakdown of the data, such as that in the figure below,🐾 illustrate that the therians in our samples (e.g., online or at conventions) are 2-3 times more likely to not identify as a furry as they are to identify as a furry. It should also be noted that approximately 5% of respondents also identify as otherkin, a group comparable to therians, with the exception that the range of entities they identify with is broader and includes non-existent species/entities (e.g., dragons).
Other studies suggest that the number of therians in the furry fandom may be an underestimation; the 11%-17% estimate of therian prevalence in the fandom is about half of what one would expect based on data showing the number of furries who don’t feel completely human.🐾 This may be explained, in part, by the fact that 27.1% of participants in one study indicated that they did not know what a therian was; as such, it’s possible that some of these participants may fit the definition of a therian without knowing about the term (and, anecdotally, this has been the case—at several of our data presentations, we’ve been approached by people afterward telling us that they’ve been a therian without knowing that there was a word to describe it.)🐾
Therians often define themselves as people who identify with non-human animals, a definition which is distinct from that of furries, whose interest in anthropomorphic media does not necessitate identification with non-human animals. To test whether furries and therians differ significantly on this dimension, we’ve asked participants a number of questions about the nature of their attitudes toward their favorite animal species (e.g., fursona species, spirit guide).
In one study, furry and therian participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they identified with their fursona/special animal species on a 7-point scale. The figure above🐾 shows that therians identified significantly more with this species than furries did (M =5.60 vs. M = 6.60), providing some evidence that therians, more than furries, are defined by the strength of their identification with non-human animals.
Non-Therian Furries and Therians Responses to Animal Identification Items
|Group||Feel Less than 100% Human?||Physically Less than 100% Human?||Mentally Less than 100% Human?||What % Non-Human Do you Feel?||
Would you be 0% Human if you Could?
* Note that in the above table, “Physically < 100% Human,” “Mentally < 100% Human,” and “% Non-Human” responses are displayed ONLY for participants who responded that they felt < 100% human.
In the same study, participants were asked questions pertaining to their feeling that they are less than 100% human and their wish to be 0% human if they could. The results above🐾 suggest that there is a dramatic difference between therians and non-therian furries: a genuine belief in a connection to animals that may include feelings of being not entirely human (or, at very least, of having aspects of one’s fursona within oneself). Therians report significantly stronger feelings than furries that they are less than 100% human. It should be noted that this isn’t delusion, however—therians aren’t necessarily looking down and “seeing paws” in place of their hands (more on this in 7.3, Nature of Connection to Species). Nearly everyone who felt less than 100% human reported that it was primarily feeling mentally less than 100% human, and far fewer said that it was a feeling of being physically non-human (although therians were 2-3 times more likely to state that they felt physically less than 100% human). Finally, therians reported feeling more “non-human” than furries and a greater desire to be 0% human than non-therian furries.
Further supporting the idea that therians differ from furries with regard to the extent to which they identify with animals and humans, furries were given a scale assessing the extent to which they identify with humans in a recent study🐾. Therians identified significantly less with humans than furries did, converging with prior findings that therians are less likely to say that they consider themselves to be 100% human.
Given that therians feel a sense of connection with a non-human animals species,🐾 we participants, furry, non-furry, and therian, questions about the nature of their felt connection to their favorite animal species (e.g., fursona, animal one identifies with). These questions asked about three different dimensions: how much participants liked the species, how strong a spiritual connection they felt with the species, and the extent to which they identified with the species (each indicated on a 7-point scale, 1 = not at all to 7 = very much).
In the figure above,🐾 it’s clear that therians were found to have greater connections to their species than furries and non-furries, and that the nature of their connection was distributed pretty equally across the three dimensions. Most important, however, the distinction between furries and therians was stronger for the “spiritual” and “identity” dimensions than on the “like” dimensions, suggesting that the most defining difference between the two groups isn’t necessarily their liking of animals, but rather the extent to which they feel a deeper spiritual/identity connection to them.
In another section, we found that, on average, furries are in their early twenties and have been in the fandom since their mid-to-late teens.🐾 Given that the experience of many therians is that a felt connection to animals was a feeling they had inside, rather than an interest that needed to be “discovered” by many furries, we tested the hypothesis that therians would experience an interest in anthropomorphic animal content at a younger age than furries.
On average, therians reported having had an interest in anthropomorphic animals for a significantly larger proportion of their life (34.1%) than furries (29.9%)🐾 And while the average furry has been a part of the furry fandom for 7.65 years, the average therian has been a furry for significantly longer—8.67 years. Finally, the figure below shows that therians develop an interest in furry content at a significantly younger age than furries (18.3 vs. 19.2). Taken together, the data are in line with therians’ claims that the feelings of identification with animals and associated interest in anthropomorphic content they experience have been a part of them for much of their lives, more so than for furries, who often stumble into their interest.
In a recent study of furries and therians, we asked participants to indicate whether or not they had ever experienced the phenomenon of phantom body parts—that is, sensations from a limb or body part that was non-existent. Many people who have had amputations experience sensations as though the limb were still present. As many therians report discomfort with their human body, and some suggest feeling that they are physically not 100% human,🐾 we tested whether the experience of phantom limbs was more prevalent in therians. Sure enough, therians were significantly more likely than non-therians to experience phantom body parts. Follow-up questions revealed that for those experiencing the phantom limbs, 70.4% found it to be “sometimes” or “always” distressing. For therians who said that they experienced a variety of other therianthropic experiences (e.g., “shifts” into a non-human animal mindset), 54.7% found it “sometimes” or “always” distressing, while 43.4% said that they never found it distressing.