Study Explains Why We Empathize More With Dogs Than People
Imagine that you’re watching a movie where humans and their canine companion run through a battlefield, trying to avoid gunfire and explosions. Who would you be more concerned about? You would probably be more concerned about the dog’s safety, admit it!
Plenty of people would agree that the selfless and absolutely loyal dogs are simply easier to love than humans. And according to a recent study, we truly feel more empathy for them than other people. But, why exactly is this?
The research team from Northeastern University Boston and the University of Colorado Boulder discovered that only children showed bigger empathetic response under certain circumstances than dogs, no matter if they were pups or fully-grown.
Researchers Professor Jack Levin and Professor Arnold Arluke gave 256 undergraduate students fake news reports of an attack with a baseball bat on either a 1-year-old baby, a 30-year-old adult, a young puppy, or a 6-year-old-dog. No matter who the victim was, they sustained several high-profile wounds.
Their point was to show that the more vulnerable a victim was, the more empathy the subjects would show. As it turns out, the participants who read the stories about the child, puppy or dog measured similar levels of empathy, while the human adult provoked a lesser degree of a response.
The authors of the study also noted that female participants were relatively more empathic towards all victims than their male counterparts.
According to the research, the reason why we feel this way with dogs is that we perceive them as being on the same level of vulnerability as children; in other words, they cannot protect themselves. We do not view dogs as animals but more as ‘fur babies’ or family members alongside human children.
This study was partly inspired by the attention a controversial incident was receiving on social media. In 2014, a pit bull attacked a 4-year-old boy in Phoenix, Arizona and left him with serious injuries that required reconstructive surgery.
Since the dog was threatened to be put down with euthanasia, a campaign was started to save him. Within just a few weeks, the Facebook page of Mickey the dog got more than 40,000 likes, while the boy’s page had just around 500.
Another case included an experiment to test whether people were more likely to donate money to help dogs or humans. Two advertisements were printed, out of which one featured a boy suffering from a form of muscular dystrophy and the other used a stock photo of a dog. The fundraising campaign received twice as many clicks when the dog’s image was used in their adverts.
It’s probably wrong to assume that animal victims will always provoke a bigger emotional response than human victims, this study suggests this is true when all we know about the adults is they’ve been victimized.
In addition to the fact that dogs are completely adoring to their human masters, according to another study, dogs also intentionally adjust their facial expressions to evoke a positive reaction in humans. Thus, similar to people, they can manipulate us into feeling affection for them.
In any case, the authors of the study concluded that by emphasizing the vulnerability of the victims, instead of focusing on exposure to aggression and violence, innovative programs could reshape the treatment and prevention of animal abuse.