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People Have More Sympathy for Dogs Than Humans

Update Date: Aug 10, 2013 12:00 AM EDT

People feel more sympathy for battered dogs than they do for some humans, new research suggests.

Researchers found that people have more empathy for battered puppies and full-grown dogs than they do for human adults.  Researchers said the findings do not apply to children.

"Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering," Jack Levin, the Irving and Betty Brudnick Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northeastern University, said in a news release. "Our results indicate a much more complex situation with respect to the age and species of victims, with age being the more important component. The fact that adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do child, puppy, and full grown dog victims suggests that adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids."

The latest study involved 240 men and women, most of whom were white and between the ages of 18 and 25, at a large northeastern university. The participants randomly received one of four fictional news articles about the beating of a one-year-old child, an adult in his thirties, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. Researchers said the stories were identical except for the victim's identity.  Participants were asked to rate their feeling of empathy towards the victim after reading the story.

"We were surprised by the interaction of age and species," Levin said. "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."

Interestingly, researchers found that the difference in empathy for children versus puppies was statically non-significant.

While the study focused on dogs and humans, researchers believe the findings would be similar for cats and people.

"Dogs and cats are family pets. These are animals to which many individuals attribute human characteristics," he concluded.

The study will be presented Aug.10 at the American Sociological Association's 108th Annual Meeting in New York City. 

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