Our collective love of dogs is no secret, but now it’s a scientific fact. A new study confirms what we all probably already felt in our hearts: people are more empathetic to dogs than other people. That likely comes as little surprise to anyone who’s seen even one dog in real life.
The recent research, published in the journal Society & Animals, asked the question, “Are people more disturbed by dog or human suffering?” (When it’s phrased that way, the aforementioned results are definitely a little bit darker.) The study was conducted with 240 participants, and each participant was given one of four fake newspaper reports about an assault.
Each of the fake reports described an attack on the victim “with a baseball bat by an unknown assailant.” Each report continued: “Arriving on the scene a few minutes after the attack, a police officer found the victim with one broken leg, multiple lacerations, and unconscious.”
However, the victim varied in each of the four reports: a one-year-old baby, a 30-year-old adult, a puppy, or a six-year-old dog. Participants in each group then answered questions that measured their levels of empathy for the victim.
Researchers hypothesized that age would be the strongest factor when it came to participants’ concern for the victim, assuming vulnerability would be determined by how old a victim was rather than their species. However, the results showed that people were about equally empathetic for the baby, the puppy, and the adult dog. The adult human received the least amount of empathy. In fact, the adult dog only received lower levels of empathy than the human baby.
People are ride or die for their doggos.
These results mirror those from a 2015 charity campaign. As the Independent reports, medical research charity Harrison’s Fund conducted a similar experiment to see whether people were more likely to donate money to help humans or dogs.
Researchers printed two ad campaigns which read, “Would you give £5 to save Harrison from a slow, painful death?” One advertisement showed a picture of a boy; the other, a picture of a dog. Dog Harrison ended up receiving more donations than Human Harrison.
Our love for dogs is also explained by previous research. As reported by Business Insider, another recent study on dogs’ facial expressions shows that our puppers make more face movement when given human attention. According to the research, dogs do things like make their eyes bigger and raise their eyebrows when trying to get attention from a person. Whether or not a treat was present had no effect on the dog’s expression. Meaning, the dogs weren’t just trying to be cute for a snack.
This new study and its results are a breath of fresh air in a news cycle that’s felt particularly polluted with terrible things recently. But I have to admit, they’re also a little disheartening. Earlier this year, writer Kayla Chadwick published a piece for Huffington Post with a headline that encapsulated how many of us are feeling as of late: I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.
Last month, writer Anne Victoria Clark published the “The Rock Test,” a “hack” to teach people how not to sexually harass women by simply treating women with the same respect and decency as you would Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Perhaps a Dog Test is also in order. Having a hard time empathizing with someone who is part of a vulnerable population? Simply envision them as a dog.
Would a police shooting about an unarmed dog upset you? If the victim were a dog, would your reaction to sexual assault allegations be, “but how was the dog acting”? Would a refugee crisis seem a little more urgent if it were puppies trying to get out of a violent, war-torn area?
It's like that saying goes, “Love thy neighbor as thy doggo.”