Humans really do love dogs more than people, new research indicates.
It seems people are more empathetic to dogs who hurt than they are towards adult humans who are also victims of violence, according to a study. In fact, only a human baby got more compassion than an adult dog among the study participants. The results seem to reinforce that we see dogs as family members, rather than simply pets. It also reinforces that we are more likely to feel empathy for a victim if we consider them helpless and unable to look after themselves.
The study, published in the journal Society & Animals, finds that most people find that incidents involving dogs being hurt are more upsetting than those of adult human beings.
The researchers at Northeastern University in Boston surveyed 256 undergraduate students and had them read fake news reports. In the reports, either a dog, puppy, human child, infant or human adult was described as brutally beaten. The fake newspaper clippings of a police report outlined an attack on a person, or on a dog. It reported that the victim was attacked “with a baseball bat by an unknown assailant,” and was left unconscious “with one broken leg” and “multiple lacerations.”
The subjects were then asked to rate how empathetic they felt for the victims. Concern for dogs came first in most responses, with adult humans ranking last.
Humans only elicited more sympathy than dogs if the victims were young. “Respondents were significantly less distressed when adult humans were victimized, in comparison with human babies, puppies and adult dogs,” according to Northeastern University of Boston researchers. “Only relative to the infant victim did the adult dog receive lower scores of empathy.”
The researchers also determined that age made a difference in empathy of human victims but not with dogs and that females overall had more empathy towards all victims than males. “We…found more empathy for victims who are human children, puppies, and fully-grown dogs than for victims who are adult humans,” researchers summarized. “Age makes a difference for empathy toward human victims, but not for dog victims. In addition, female participants were significantly more empathic toward all victims than were their male counterparts.”
Jack Levin, a sociology and criminology professor at Northeastern University, who conducted the study with Arnold Arluke, stated in a press release that, “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.”
He added that subjects did not view their dogs as animals, but rather as “‘fur babies,’ or family members alongside human children'”. But he did add that, “Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering. Our results indicate a much more complex situation with respect to the age and species of victims, with age being the more important component.”