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Dogs May Elicit More Empathy Than Some People

Adult crime victims drew less sympathy than kids and puppies in study

SATURDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- People may feel more empathy for dogs than for some of their fellow humans, a new study finds.

When it comes to victims of violence, people may be less disturbed by the suffering of human adults, who are considered capable of taking care of themselves, the study suggests. Meanwhile, children, puppies and full-grown dogs are perceived as dependent and vulnerable.

The study involved 240 men and women. Most of the participants were white college students between 18 and 25 years old.

In conducting the research, Jack Levin, a distinguished professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University, and study co-author Arnold Arluke, a sociology professor at the school, randomly gave one of four fictional news stories to each participant.

The scenarios involved the beating of a 1-year-old baby, an adult in his 30s, a puppy or a 6-year-old dog. After reading the story, the participants rated how much empathy they had for the victim of the attack.

More empathy was shown for the child, the puppy and the adult dog than the adult human, the study revealed. Surprisingly, the participants had about the same amount of empathy for the child as they did for the puppy.

The study is scheduled for presentation Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City.

"We were surprised by the interaction of age and species," Levin said in an association news release. "Age seems to trump species when it comes to eliciting empathy."

The authors noted the findings would likely be similar if the study had involved cats instead of dogs. As family pets, they said, dogs and cats often are assigned human characteristics.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has more about empathy.


SOURCE: American Sociological Association, news release, Aug. 10, 2013

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