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People Feel Sorrier for Battered Puppies Than Adult Humans

Adult victims ranked last because they're seen as being "capable of protecting themselves while full grown dogs are just seen as larger puppies"

Photo: Hannah K

Puppies and dogs, it turns out, are much better at pulling on our heartstrings than fellow adult humans. Researchers found that people are equally empathetic to dogs of any age and to human children who suffered physical abuse, but not to adults victims.

To identify our soft spot for the furry and the very young, researchers interviewed 240 people between the ages of 18 to 25. Each person received one of four random cards printed with a story on it. These fictional news stories all told the same sorry tale of a victim of domestic violence. The only element that was different was recipient of the beating: either a one-year-old, a 30-something adult male, an adorable puppy or a 6-year-old dog. After reading the stories, participants were quizzed about how heart-wrenching they found the victim to be.

Age, it turned out, was the most significant factor in determining people’s empathy for the abused person or creature. Indeed, participants felt equally moved by battered puppy and the 1-year-old. The full-grown dog came next, indicating that “adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids,” the researchers write in a press release. Adult victims ranked last, perhaps, as some experiment participants expressed, because they’re seen as being “capable of protecting themselves while full grown dogs are just seen as larger puppies.”

The team thinks the same results would apply to cats, too.

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