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.”

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