Surveys show that people have less empathy for battered human adults than they do dogs, according to a paper at the American Sociological Association.
Jack Levin and Arnold Arluke, sociology professors at Northeastern University, used the opinions of 240 men and women, most of whom were white and between the ages of 18-25 (college students), at a large northeastern university (guess which one) who randomly received one of four fictional news articles about; the beating of a one-year-old child, an adult in his thirties, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. The stories were identical except for the victim's identify. After reading their story, respondents were asked to rate their feelings of empathy towards the victim.
Survey results showed that abused adult people have it bad in our culture while dogs have it quite good. Even the difference in empathy for human children versus puppies was statistically non-significant.
The results surprised the sociologists, who expected the empathy for animals to be even more lopsided. "Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering," said Levin. "We were surprised by the interaction of age and species. Age seems to trump species, when it comes to eliciting empathy. In addition, it appears that adult humans are viewed as capable of protecting themselves while full grown dogs are just seen as larger puppies."
As for using 240 college students and drawing conclusions about society, Levin said it is common practice to use homogenous samples for studies such as his that center around an experiment - everyone in sociology uses surveys of students so it is no problem that they do it in their new paper also. But they don't count this as a survey, even though the participants were asked to subjectively rank their 'feelings'.
"Unlike survey research, experiments usually employ a homogenous sample in order to establish a cause and effect relationship rather than to generalize a large population," Levin said. "However, there is really no reason to believe that our results would differ very much nationally, particularly among college students."
Levin thinks 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."
Being human is a thankless job.