Study Asks If People Are More Empathetic Toward Dogs or Humans

PetMD Editorial
November 08, 2017
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A recently published study out of Northeastern University in Boston has revealed some interesting findings when it comes to whether people are more disturbed by dog or human suffering.  

The study, which was conducted by Drs. Jack Levin, Arnold Arluke and Leslie Irvine, gathered data from 256 undergraduate participants who were given false news reports about various physical attacks happening on a 1-year-old infant, a 30-year-old human, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog, respectively. 

The reactions of the volunteers to these stories were measured by the emotional response scale, which indicates the degree of concern for the victims. (The participants were given 16 different emotions to choose from, and ranked them from 1-7, with 1 being not at all sympathetic and 7 being extremely sympathetic.) 

Irvine and her colleagues conducted the study to determine whether people had more empathy or care toward animals than their fellow man, as it has sometimes been suggested. "We were interested in seeing what dynamics are at work there," when it comes to dissecting the compassion that people have for humans and dogs, Irvine explained to petMD. 

The collected data found that people were most sympathetic toward infants and puppies, followed by adult dogs and adult humans last. Age made a difference when it came to human victims, but not for dogs.

The researchers concluded that, "Subjects did not view their dogs as animals, but rather as ‘fur babies,' or family members alongside human children." (The study also found that female participants were significantly more empathic toward all victims than were their male counterparts.) 

"It confirmed what I expected," Irvine said, "that people have empathy towards the more vulnerable." 

Image via Shutterstock 

Read more: Differentiating Between Pet Parents and Pet Owners