The research, which included 256 college students, examined whether people are more emotionally disturbed by reports of humans or dogs suffering from abuse.
Participants in the study were given false news reports of an unprovoked attack “with a baseball bat by an unknown attacker.”
“Arriving on the scene a few minutes after the attack, a police officer discovered that the victim had a broken leg, multiple lacerations and unconsciousness,” it said.
Different versions of the report had the victims of the attack as a one-year-old infant, a 30-year-old man, a puppy or an adult dog.
The students were then asked questions to indicate their extent of empathy for each victim.
“Respondents were significantly less concerned when adult humans were victims, compared to babies, puppies and adult dogs,” the researchers said.
“Only relative to the infant victim did the adult dog receive less empathy.”
“They added: “Subjects did not consider their dogs as animals, but as” fur children, “ or family members with human children.
Puppy dog eyes are for the benefit of humans
The researchers found that the vulnerability of the victims, mainly determined by their age, was an important factor.
“The main effect for age, but not for species was significant, and we also found more empathy for the victims who are human children, puppies and fully mature dogs than for victims who are adult humans,” they said.
“It appears that adult humans are viewed as able of protecting themselves, while fully mature dogs are just seen as larger puppies,” said co- author of the study Jack Levine.
The study by researchers from the Northeastern University, Boston, was published in the Journal of Society and Animals.