You’re watching a movie. A dog and his human companions run through a battlefield, dodging gunfire and explosions. Be honest: you’re more concerned that the dog will perish, not the people, right?
For plenty of people, selfless and unconditionally loyal dogs are a little easier to love than humans. A new study demonstrates that we do indeed have more empathy for them than other adults, and the authors attempt to explain why.
Writing in the journal Society & Animals, the team – from Northeastern University Boston and the University of Colorado Boulder – found that only children elicit more of an empathetic response under certain conditions than dogs, whether they’re puppies or fully grown.
The study gathered 256 undergraduate students together and then presented them with fake news reports of attacks 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 were subjected to the business end of a baseball bat, and left with various high-profile wounds.
The idea was that the more vulnerable a victim was, the more empathy the subjects would show. As it turned out, the levels of empathy reported for the baby, the puppy, and the dog were on par with one another; the adult victim was empathized with, but to a lesser degree.
“In addition, female participants were significantly more empathic toward all victims than were their male counterparts,” the authors noted in their study.
The general idea as to why we feel this way towards dogs, according to the research, is that we see them as having the same degree of vulnerability as kids; in other words, they are unable to protect themselves. Other studies, those that conclude we see dogs as "fur babies", indirectly support this.