A recent study has found that people are more empathetic for their dogs than for their fellow humans, The team of researchers at the Northeastern University in Boston discovered that people more often had a compassionate response to a dog in distress than a human.
Professor Jack Levin and Professor Arnold Arluke of Northeastern University and Professor Leslie Irvine of the University of Colorado-Boulder conducted a study which involved 240 students.
Each of them received one of 4 mock newspaper reports, about a puppy, an adult dog, a human baby, and a human adult human who had been beaten with a baseball bat.
The findings, published in the journal Society and Animals, showed that adult humans elicited the least empathy.
Participants had to complete a survey regarding their emotional responses to the fake stories, and according to the Independent:
“The participants who’d read a story about a child, dog or puppy measured similar levels of empathy, but the human adult provoked less of a response. “
“ Respondents were significantly less distressed when adult humans were victimised, in comparison with human babies, puppies, and adult dogs. Only relative to the infant victim did the adult dog receive lower scores of empathy.
Results provide partial support for the assumption that people generally care more about non-human animal suffering than human suffering.
More specifically, when confronted with hypothetical abuse, individuals report more distress over non-human rather than human victimization, unless a human child experiences the suffering.”
They believe that the higher degree of empathy for the human baby over the adult dog was due to the tendency to identify with others like them. They think that the strong emotional response to dogs in distress might be a result of the perception of dogs as “babies” or “children.”
The findings of Jessica Greenebaum of Central Connecticut State University’s Sociology Department showed that some people consider dogs to be part of their human families.
Moreover, researchers maintain that adult people feel empathy for victims and exhibit stronger reactions for babies, dogs, and puppies, as they regard them as helpless and as unable to take a proper care of themselves.
They believe that these findings can help them fight abuse against animals. They wrote:
“By emphasizing shared vulnerability, rather than focusing on exposure to violence and aggression, innovative programs could reshape the treatment and prevention of animal abuse.”