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It’s no secret dog owners love their dogs, and a new study takes a look into exactly how far that love goes. The Times of London published an experiment meant to compare a person’s empathy toward dogs as opposed to other humans. A medical research charity in the UK staged their study around two fake advertisements asking for donations.
In the first ad, readers were told the sad story of a man named Harrison. It read, “Would You give £5 to save Harrison from a slow, painful death?” The story didn’t change for the second ad, but instead of being human, Harrison was a dog.
Researchers observed responses from 240 students, and there was a clear divide in who they cared about most. Harrison the dog received far more contributions than Harrison the person. People were more open to donating money to a dog in need than an adult man, and they showed markedly less empathy toward someone of their own species.
Another study by Northwestern University in 2013 took the test a step further. Instead of two fake narratives, there were four. They asked people to look at made-up news stories for a 30-year-old man, an adult dog, a puppy, and a human baby. In this scenario, the four subjects were attacked by a person with a baseball bat, and respondents were asked to rate which of the four victims they’d rather help.
This time, dogs came in second place to the human baby, but the adult man ranked fourth out of four. After the baby, the puppy and then the adult dog received the highest scores when it came to human empathy.
Maybe it’s the irresistible puppy dog eyes, floppy ears, or natural innocence, but there’s something about dogs that makes people want to love and protect them. Researchers aren’t necessarily saying you love your dog more than your human family members, but when it comes to dogs versus people, the evidence doesn’t lie.