By Dawn Luger
A new study confirms that humans love dogs more than they love their fellow humans. According to science, it’s because people see dogs as helpless.
According to two new studies, we’re more likely to empathize with struggling dogs than with struggling people. Medical research charity Harrison’s Fund conducted an experiment two years ago to test whether people were more likely to donate money to help dogs or humans, and they concluded it’s the former.
This idea was conjured up and backed up by another recent study into human-dog empathy, which concluded that we get more upset by stories of dogs being beaten up or hurt than humans going through the exact same treatment.
The researchers’ experiment was actually quite simple. They printed two advertisements, both of which posed the question: “Would you give £5 to save Harrison from a slow, painful death?” The only difference between the ads was the picture. One featured Harrison as a little boy, the other featured Harrison as a dog. And it was Harrison the dog who received the most donations.
This in no way is to say the empathy for animals is a bad thing. But what about our fellow human beings? A second study backed up what the Harrison Fund discovered.
This time, researchers Professor Jack Levin and Professor Arnold Arluke, from Northeastern University in Boston, gave 240 participants one of four fake newspaper reports. The articles described an attack “with a baseball bat by an unknown assailant.” It went on: “Arriving on the scene a few minutes after the attack, a police officer found the victim with one broken leg, multiple lacerations, and unconscious.”
But in each version, much like the Harrison Fund’s experiment, the victim in each image was different. This time, there were four different victims. It was either a one-year-old infant, a 30-year-old adult, a puppy or a six-year-old adult dog. The report, published in the journal Society & Animals, reveals that participants were asked to describe their emotions using standard questions to measure empathy.
The participants who’d read a story about a child, dog, or puppy measured similar levels of empathy, but the human adult provoked less of a response, The Times reports. “Respondents were significantly less distressed when adult humans were victimised, in comparison with human babies, puppies, and adult dogs. Only relative to the infant victim did the adult dog receive lower scores of empathy,” the researchers said.
Researchers say that this shows that humans think of dogs as family members. “Subjects did not view their dogs as animals, but rather as ‘fur babies’, or family members alongside human children,” they wrote. It could also mean that a human will express more empathy if they feel the victim is more helpless and unable to care for themselves.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Sheeple.