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Why We Empathize More With Dogs Than People

The Independent

If you bawl your eyes out while watching Marley & Me, Hatchi, Old Yeller, or Lassie, but not as much in Titanic, Remember Me, or The Last Song, there's science to back up why you're like this.

Marley & Meslashfilm

Researchers were inspired to find out why some people empathize more with dogs than older humans after a viral story about a pit bull mauling a 4-year-old boy back in 2014 turned controversial.

When the dog was threatened to be put down, people started a campaign for Mickey the dog, which garnered 40,000 likes. The page supporting the little boy who needed reconstructive surgery received approximately 500 likes.

A study published in the journal Society & Animals found that people empathize more with young children and dogs.

And researchers discovered why.

A large group of undergraduate students were presented with fake news reports of attacks to gauge their level of empathy toward the victims, which included a 1-year-old baby, a young puppy, a 6-year-old dog, and a 30-year-old adult.


The results were not that surprising. The adult victim was empathized with, but not on the same level as the baby, puppy, and older dog.

Researchers believe that dogs are seen as selfless, innocent, loving, and loyal, which makes them easier to form a strong bond with.

Also, dogs try to please humans by showing positive facial expressions. Some argue that this is a form of manipulation in order for humans to be more caring towards them.

The authors of the study concluded by saying: "By emphasizing shared vulnerability, rather than focusing on exposure to violence and aggression, innovative programs could reshape the treatment and prevention of animal abuse."


Moojan has been a writer at Shared for a year. When she's not on the lookout for viral content, she's looking at cute animal photos. Reach her at moojan@shared.com.