According to the American Sociological Association (ASA), the paper “Are People More Disturbed by Animal or Human Suffering? Assessing the Influence of Victim’s Species and Age on Empathy,” was presented on ,Aug. 10 2013, in New York City at the American Sociological Association’s 108th Annual Meeting.The ASA is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.
“Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering,” said Jack Levin, the Irving and Betty Brudnick Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northeastern University. “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 study involved 240 men and women between 18 and 25 years of age. They were randomly given 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. “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.”
“Unlike survey research, experiments usually employ a homogenous sample in order to establish a cause and effect relationship rather than to generalize a large population,” Levin said. “However, there is really no reason to believe that our results would differ very much nationally, particularly among college students.”
While the study was focused on dogs and humans, Levin and co-author Arnold Arluke, think the findings would be similar for cats and people as well. “Dogs and cats are family pets,” he said. “These are animals to which many individuals attribute human characteristics.”