Study: People More Empathetic Toward Dogs Than Fellow Humans

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
We love our pets like their family members and that’s no secret. Research says so much so that we actually tend to be more disturbed by the suffering of dogs than we are the suffering of humans.

Researchers from Northeastern University believe that human beings tend to be more disturbed when we see dogs suffering than even when we see the suffering of human beings.

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The researchers presented 256 students with fake reports of abuse–attacks on either a person or a dog. The fake news was presented in the form of police reports in newspaper clippings, and detailed that the victim was attacked with a baseball bat, left unconscious with a broken leg and many cuts.

The students were all given the same report, with the only difference being the victim’s description. The ‘victim’ was either a one-year-old baby, a 30-year-old adult, a puppy or a six-year-old dog. They were then asked questions about their feelings for the victim while the researchers looked at their levels of empathy toward the victims.

Lead author Jack Levin hypothesized that their empathy would be based on how vulnerable they considered each victim, and they found that people tended to be more empathetic toward the dogs than they did the humans. The empathy levels for the puppy, the older dog and baby human were similar, while the adult came in as being less concerned about. The human baby seemed to garner more concern than the older dog, but barely, according to the data.

The researchers claim this shows that the subjects of the study didn’t just view their dogs as animals, but as family members who rank alongside human children. They believe it could be as a study last month suggested–our dogs use specific facial characteristics and eye movements as if to communicate with us, and typically to garner attention from us.

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This would explain why many people often claim they are more concerned about the dog dying in a movie plotline than they are the human, and may go a long way in animal welfare and advocacy campaigns.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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