People have more empathy for battered puppies and full grown dogs than they do for some humans — adults, but not children, finds new research to be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
“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.”
In their study, Levin and co-author Arnold Arluke, a sociology professor at Northeastern University, considered the opinions of 240 men and women, most of whom were white and between the ages of 18–25, at a large northeastern university. Participants randomly received one of four fictional news articles about the beating of a one-year-old child, an adult in his thirties, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. The stories were identical except for the victim’s identify. After reading their story, respondents were asked to rate their feelings of empathy towards the victim.
“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.”