It’s no big secret that people love their pets, and with about 70 percent of U.S. households counting an animal friend as part of the family, according to the Insurance Information Institute, there’s a lot of love to go around. But do people actually love their pets more than other people?
Take a look at these two fictional scenarios:
1. You’re scrolling through Facebook looking for news when you see a story that catches your attention. A 3-year-old dog, the story says, has been found in an alley with its legs broken, probably by a baseball bat. There’s a picture of the dogbeing treated at an animal hospital. There’s no word on who might have done it.
2. You’re watching the local TV news when a breaking bulletin comes on the screen. A 22-year-old woman was attacked in an alley, robbed and beaten with a bat. Her legs were broken, and images of her being rushed into an ambulance are shared on the screen. The culprit is still on the loose.
Which scenario struck you more – the woman, or the dog?
According to a new study published in the journal Society & Animals, most people find the idea of dogs being hurt more upsetting than the idea of humans being hurt – at least in some cases.
The researchers surveyed 256 undergraduate students and had them read fake news reports. In the reports, either a dog, puppy, human child, infant or human adult was described as brutally beaten, and subjects were asked to rate how empathetic they felt for the victims. Concern for adult humans, the study concludes, came in dead last. The only time, in fact, that humans trumped dogs was when the dog was pitted against a human infant.
“Subjects did not view their dogs as animals, but rather as ‘fur babies,’ or family members alongside human children,” the researchers wrote, reported Business Insider.
“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,” Jack Levin, a sociology and criminology professor at Northeastern University who led the research, wrote in an earlier press release about the research.
To some, the results are not especially surprising. People really care about dogs. In a survey from Rover.com, nearly half of respondents said they found it more difficult to leave their dog for a week than their human partner.
In another example in 2015, a charity printed two advertisements asking for donations to research treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a terminal disease of the muscles. They were identical, and both asked “Would you give £5 to help save Harrison from a slow and painful death?” One advertisement, however, had a picture of a child,while the other one had a picture of a dog. The one with the picture of the dog received more than twice as many clicks, reported the Huffington Post.