(ANTIMEDIA) — According to a recent study, people have more empathy for dogs than their fellow humans. Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston published their findings, which indicated people were more likely to have 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 gave the participants one of four mock newspaper reports and found adult humans elicited the least empathy.
The study, published in the journal Society and Animals, had 240 students complete a survey regarding their emotional responses to the four fake stories about a puppy, an adult dog, a human baby, and a human adult human who had been beaten with a baseball bat.
“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,” the Independent summarized.
“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,” the researchers wrote.
They said their “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 suggested the higher degree of empathy for the human baby over the adult dog was a result of people’s tendency to identify with others who like them, in this case, the human species.
The researchers also said the strong emotional response to dogs in distress may be related to people’s perception of dogs as “babies” or “children.” They cited separate research from Jessica Greenebaum of Central Connecticut State University’s Sociology Department that found some people consider dogs to be part of their human families.
The researchers also explained that people are more likely to feel empathy for victims they perceive as helpless and unable to take care of themselves, which explains the stronger reactions for puppies, dogs, and babies rather than adult humans.
They believe their findings may be useful in working to combat abuse against animals. “By emphasizing shared vulnerability, rather than focusing on exposure to violence and aggression, innovative programs could reshape the treatment and prevention of animal abuse,” they wrote.