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Battered Puppies Prompt More Empathy in Humans Than Adults Who Experienced Physical Abuse

By Zulai Serrano | Aug 10, 2013 11:42 AM EDT

Battered Puppies
New research shows abused puppies elicit more empathy in humans than adults who experienced the same. However, researchers say its not the animal that prompts the response, but rather the age. There was no real statistical difference between empathy for a child versus that of a puppy. (Photo : Flickr)

A new study shows people may have more empathy for battered puppies than people, well adults anyway, according to a news release.

Research presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) questioned 240 men and women between the ages of 18-25 about four fictional articles.

Participants were given one of the following articles: a story about beating of a one-year-old child, an adult in his thirties, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog . The stories were identical except for the identity of the victim, according the ASA news release.

"Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering," said Jack Levin, lead study author and 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."

Researchers found age is the main factor that elicits more empathy. There was no real statistical difference between empathy for a child versus that of a puppy.

"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."

The new study mainly focused on dogs and humans, but Levin believes there would be the same response for cats.

"Dogs and cats are family pets," Levin said. "These are animals to which many individuals attribute human characteristics."

The study was not published, as research presented at the annual ASA meeting are typically not reviewed by journals.

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