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Are People More Disturbed by Dog or Human Suffering?

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Influence of Victim’s Species and Age

image of Society & Animals

This research examines whether people are more emotionally disturbed by reports of non-human animal than human suffering or abuse. Two hundred and fifty-six undergraduates at a major northeastern university were asked to indicate their degree of empathy for a brutally beaten human adult or child versus an adult dog or puppy, as described in a fictitious news report. We hypothesized that the vulnerability of victims—determined by their age and not species—would determine participants’ levels of distress and concern for them. The main effect for age but not for species was significant. We also found more empathy for victims who are human children, puppies, and fully-grown dogs than for victims who are adult humans. Age makes a difference for empathy toward human victims, but not for dog victims. In addition, female participants were significantly more empathic toward all victims than were their male counterparts.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Northeastern University Boston, Massachusetts ; 2: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Northeastern University Boston, Massachusetts ; 3: Department of Sociology, University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado


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