Be honest — when watching television, you never (or rarely) cry when a human dies. But if a dog passes away, the waterworks won’t stop flowing. If this is you to a ‘T’, you’re not alone. Fortunately for all of us saps who empathize with dogs more than other humans (excluding children), science finally has an explanation as to why.
Researchers from Northeastern University Boston and the University of Colorado Boulder partnered for the study, which was published in the journal Society & Animals. After gathering 256 undergraduate students together, they presented the unsuspecting participants with fake news reports of attacks on either a 1-year-old baby, a 30-year-old adult, a young puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. Each victim was said to have been attacked with a baseball bat and left with various high-profile wounds.
The results were surprising. As it turns out, the baby, the puppy, and the dog were on par with one another. The adult victim, on the other hand, was slightly empathized with.The researchers theorize that the level of empathy was tied to the vulnerability of a victim. The authors of the study added: “In addition, female participants were significantly more empathic toward all victims than were their male counterparts.”
The researchers concluded that people tend to cultivate more empathy for dogs because they have the same degree of vulnerability as children. In other words, we tend to sympathize with creatures that cannot protect themselves. Canines may be a different species, but they are still our beloved “fur babies.”
According to IFLScience, the study was partly inspired by a controversial case that went viral on social media. In 2014, a 4-year-old boy in Pheonix, Arizona, was attacked by a pit bull. The boy ended up with serious injuries and even needed reconstructive surgery. The dog was threatened with euthanasia. He would have met this fate, but activists set up a campaign to collect signatures with the hope of protecting him. After a few weeks, Mickey the dog’s Facebook page had gathered more than 40,000 likes. The page supporting the boy, on the other hand, had around 500.
This isn’t the first experiment to highlight people’s tendency to empathize more with dogs than humans. A charity advertisement used a stock photo of a dog and a photo of a real boy who was suffering from muscular dystrophy. Guess which one received more donations? Yup, the campaign featuring the image of a dog.
The authors concluded that being aware of creatures’ vulnerabilities may help engender more empathy among groups of people who sympathize with victims. They wrote, “By emphasizing shared vulnerability, rather than focusing on exposure to violence and aggression, innovative programs could reshape the treatment and prevention of animal abuse.”
Of course, not all humans empathize more with dogs than humans. But based on several experiments, this seems to be the case for most people. Another reason we might empathize more with dogs than humans is because household pets, in general, are more kind and appreciative than the average adult.
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