Study reveals people show more empathy towards dogs than adults

It's no secret pet owners love their furry four-legged friends. In the past couple decades Fido's lifestyle has come a long way.

"They have daycare, they have clothing, they have all of these things that you know you would normally provide for a child," said Dr. Miranda Brenneman, a Professor of Psychology at Coastal Carolina University.

Two professors at Northeastern University completed a study that asked the question "Are people more disturbed by animal or human suffering?" They recorded the emotional response to a fictitious news story about either a brutally beaten human adult or child versus a dog, or puppy. Participants were least distressed about the human adult.

"Pets have really become ingrained in the family and when you look at a pet versus like a child both seem to be relatively helpless," said Brenneman. "An adult human put in a situation where they're being beat or could be injured the impression is well they can get away. They have the ability and the mental capacity to be able to leave the situation and get away. Whereas a child or animal might not be able to."

"Anthropomorphism of pets. Have we created little fur children? We refer to our owners as fur parents, pet parents because of life's stresses and strains many young couples are not able to have children. Or delay child rearing because of their career choices and the demand and stresses plays upon them," added Dr. Noel Berger, a Veterinarian at Animal Hospital and Laser Center of South Carolina in Pawleys Island.

Just looking at stories posted to our website supports the studies conclusion. A story about a K-9 officer dying after being left in a car garnered hundreds of comments and thousands of facebook shares. Compared to a deadly shooting, which didn't get as much of an emotional response.

Berger said another factor might be contributing to the reaction, "We can more easily soothe and calm our furry four legged friends by touch. You can stroke and cuddle and you can soothe but we can't do that with adults. That because we can't calm and soothe the pain of injured adults that emotional connection and empathy is broken. But because in young babies, and young puppies and even in regular dogs we have the ability. We have permission and then we receive the forgiveness the empathic doorways are open that we can use understanding and touch to soothe the harmed and the injured victim."

The study also found that women were significantly more empathic toward victims compared to men.