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Empathy With Dogs Stronger Than With Humans: Study

08/12/2013 12:35 EDT | Updated 08/12/2013 12:46 EDT
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SAN MATEO, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Dr. Linda Janowitz checks a dog at the Peninsula Society & SPCA September 14, 2005 in San Mateo, California. The dog is one of about 1,000 expected to be flown to the Bay Area from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina separated them from their owners. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

People feel more empathy with dogs than they do their own species, a new study suggests.

Children, however, remain about on par as with canines.

The findings, presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, zeroed in on age as the biggest factor eliciting empathy.

Marked by vulnerability and dependence, dogs are seen as our wards -- and much like children, we have a responsibility to safeguard their welfare.

"Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering," said study co-author Jack Levin, a professor at Northeastern University in a statement. "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, most of them white and between 18 and 25. They were asked to read a fictional news story about various subjects being beaten -- a toddler, a 30-something adult, a puppy and a six-year-old dog.

Then respondents rated how much they cared about each subject.

Levin, along with Northeastern professor Arnold Arluke, considered the opinions of 240 men and women, most of whom were white and between the ages of 18-25.

The study targeted dogs, but Levin suggested the findings would be similar for cats as well.

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

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