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The Most Vulnerable Garner the Most Empathy

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If you were to read a news story about a battered 1-year-old child, puppy, adult dog or man in his 30s, who would you feel the most sorry for?

If you're like most people who participated in a recent study, presented in New York City at the American Sociological Association's 108th Annual Meeting,1 the child will win over the most empathy.

This was followed very closely by the puppy and then the full-grown dog. In last place is the 30-year-old male, to whom the participants felt the least empathy.

The finding confirms the depth of feeling that pet owners already know, and once again highlights the important place that companion animals have in many people's lives.

The Most Vulnerable Garner the Most Empathy

As for why puppies and children (who received such similar levels of empathy that the difference was considered statistically insignificant) received more empathy than an adult human, it's likely because the younger age, regardless of species, was seen as more vulnerable.

The adult dogs were regarded largely in the same light as the puppies -- vulnerable and dependent on others for protection. Said one of the study's authors:

"Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering. 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."

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