Do you like your dog more than your friends? Well, you're not the only like that. A team from Northeastern University Boston and the University of Colorado Boulder published a study in the journal Society & Animals. The scientists gathered 256 undergraduate students.
They were presented with fake news reports on attacks on either a 1-year-old baby, a 30-year-old adult, a young puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. The empathy levels reported for baby, puppy and dog were almost equal. Meanwhile, people empathized with the adult victim a lot less.
The study was inspired by the story of a pit bull who mauled a 4-year-old boy in Phoenix, Arizona in 2014, with the boy receiving injuries necessitating restorative surgery. The dog was to be put down. However, a campaign was set up to save him and within weeks, the dog's Facebook page accrued more than 40,000 likes. Meanwhile, the kid's support page only had around 500.
Another inspiration was a charity advertisement campaign. One version showed a stock photo of a dog, while another had a real boy suffering from a form of muscular dystrophy. The campaign reported twice as many clicks from the ads with the dog.
The authors of the study now suspect that the best way to inspire humane attitudes in groups of people is to underline that victims are vulnerable. "By emphasizing shared vulnerability, rather than focusing on exposure to violence and aggression, innovative programs could reshape the treatment and prevention of animal abuse,” they wrote.