Battered dogs attract more empathy than battered adults, study finds
Posted Aug 20, 2013 5:00 PM CST
By Molly McDonough
Researchers at Northeastern University have found that people feel more empathy towards hurt or battered dogs than for an adult human.
But when it comes to babies, the playing field is level.
The findings are from a study conducted by Northeastern University sociology professors Jack Levin and Arnold Arluke that was presented at this month's meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City, according to Boston Magazine and a news release.
In the study, Levin and Arluke asked 240 students from Northeastern University to read one of four fictional news articles about the beating of a 1-year-old child, an adult in his 30s, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. Each story was identical except for the identity of the victim. After reading the story, the students, who didn't know the stories were fake, were asked to rate their feelings of empathy towards the victim.
The researchers found that age and species worked together and made a difference in the degree of distress of the respondents.
"We were surprised by the interaction of age and species," Levin said in the release. "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."
Levin explained to Boston Magazine that he believes people have become desensitized to violence and they believe that adults can fend for themselves.
The study did reveal that a small group of respondents, females, were more distressed by victimization in general, as opposed to their male counterparts. Levin told Boston Magazine that the gender difference is consistent with other empathy studies he has conducted.
Levin and Arluke have been studying the relationship between animal cruelty and human violence.
“Many people seem to be more sympathetic to animal victims than they are to humans, so we decided to develop an experiment where we tested the idea,” Levin said. “From here, we are going to continue to look at animal cruelty and its relationship to human violence.”
Hat tip: The Crime Report