Humans Have Greater Empathy for Battered Dogs Than Battered Adults: Study

First Posted: Aug 12, 2013 04:01 AM EDT

A new finding states that battered dogs and puppies inspire greater empathy than humans in similar situations.

The new study conducted by researchers at the Northeastern University states that people have more empathy for battered dogs than for adult humans. They also found that abused children and puppies drew similar compassionate reactions.

"Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering," said Jack Levin, the Irving and Betty Brudnick Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northeastern University. "Our results indicate a much more complex situation with respect to the age and species of victims, with age being the more important component. The fact that adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do child, puppy, and full grown dog victims suggests that adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids."

To prove their finding, the researchers conducted a survey in which they examined the opinions of 240 white men and women on fictional news article about brutal beatings. The participants were of ages 18-25. They were randomly given one of the four fictional news articles about beatings of a one-year-old child, a thirty-year-old adult, a puppy and a 6-year-old dog. Except for the victim's identity, all the four stories were the same.

The participants were asked to read the article and rate their feelings of empathy toward the victim in the story.

"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."

During the experiment, the participants gave the same rating to puppies and children on the empathy scale, indicating the two are essentially tied.

The study also showed that women on the whole were more sympathetic toward human and animal victims compared to men.

The researcher's suspects that similar conclusion for cats can be drawn too.

The study will be presented at the 108th annual conference of the American Sociological Association in New York City on Saturday.

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