Do People Care More About Dogs Than Other People?

People may be more empathetic to dogs than their fellow humans, a new study reveals.

In our society, dogs are often viewed as dependent and vulnerable. Moreover, both pet owners and non-pet owners alike have expressed that we as humans have the responsibility to look after dogs and other companion animals. Many pet owners even treat their dogs as part of the family, giving them the care and attention they would a child.

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Perhaps it is not surprising then that people generally feel more empathy towards dogs—both puppies and adults—than adult humans. Health 24 and WDAM 7 report, “When it comes to victims of violence, people may be less disturbed by the suffering of human adults, who are considered capable of taking care of themselves.”

This is just one conclusion of the recent study conducted by Jack Levin and Arnold Arluke that is set to be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Both study authors are professors at Northeastern University in Boston.

Their new study looked at the opinions of 240 men and women, most of whom were white college students aged 18-25. According to Science Daily, these participants randomly read one of four fictional news articles about the beating of a one-year-old child, an adult in his thirties, a puppy or a six-year-old dog. All stories were identical; only the victim’s identity was changed. After each participant read their story, they were asked to rate their feelings of empathy for the victim.

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Since this study was an experiment, not survey research, a homogenous sample was employed to establish a cause and effect relationship instead of a large population generalization. Yet, Levin remarked that he believes the results would not differ greatly nationally.

The majority of the study participants felt most empathetic towards the young child, puppy and adult dog than the adult human. Interestingly, the results suggest that age, not species was the most important factor in eliciting empathetic feelings from participants.

“We were surprised by the interaction of age and species,” Levin said. “Age seems to trump species, when it comes to eliciting empathy. In addition, it appears that adult humans are viewed as capable of protecting themselves while full grown dogs are just seen as larger puppies.”

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Levin also thinks that findings would be similar if cats were replaced with dogs in the study. Since dogs and cats are family pets, we attribute many human characteristics to them, allowing us to not only sympathize with them, but also show empathy towards them.

Do you find you’re more empathetic to dogs and other pets than adult humans when new stories surface about abuse? Do you consider your pet a member of your family? Share your thoughts with us below!

Image source: Tim Douglas/ Flickr