August 17, 2013
Battered Dogs Elicit More Sympathy Than Battered Adult Humans

Do college students lack sympathy for adults who get beat up? I bet this holds for other age brackets and educational levels.

In their study, Levin and co-author Arnold Arluke, a sociology professor at Northeastern University, considered the opinions of 240 men and women, most of whom were white and between the ages of 18-25, at a large northeastern university. Participants 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.

"We were surprised by the interaction of age and species," Levin said. "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."

Yes, dogs are big puppies.

Does this mean we should extend human rights to dogs? Or should we extend dog rights to humans?

Or does this demonstrate a major deficiency in the way Enlightenment-inspired Western moral philosophers think about right and wrong? (the answer is "yes" btw)

The part of the mind that thinks it directs the speech and writing centers has a very flawed understanding of how the mind does moral reasoning.

Want to understand why human brains reach moral conclusions that conflict with the moral reasoning framework that has dominated Western societies for the last couple of hundred years? Read Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and Robert Kurzban's Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind.

Also very good: The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 August 17 10:47 AM 

Acksiom said at August 17, 2013 11:47 AM:

Wait, why are they saying "adults" when the only comparative example was a male?

This is crap, not research. That's a crippling methodological flaw; no sociologist worth anything would ignore the radical differences in reactions to violence against women compared to men.

And it's almost funny to watch Randall do pretty much the same thing in his comments about it, demonstrating a major deficiency in the way Enlightenment-inspired Western bloggers think about right and wrong.

I.e., their male-exploitive sexism.

Randall Parker said at August 17, 2013 12:10 PM:


My guess is that female adults elicit more sympathy than male adults when beat up. But more than dogs? My guess is no. But I'm not sure.

I am also curious to know whether a female doing the beating changes the extent of the sympathy for each victim category.

destructure said at August 18, 2013 4:12 AM:

Acksiom has a nice observation on the gender. My guess is that a grown woman would get at least as much sympathy as a grown dog but that men would come in dead last. In fact, an abused man would likely receive more contempt than sympathy.

Matt said at August 18, 2013 7:01 PM:

I definitely have more sympathy for dogs than men... Or women for that matter.

I wonder what the result would be for dog hating cultures, such as Muslims.

Muddywood said at August 18, 2013 9:02 PM:

Talk Show host Dennis Prager poses a question to college students when he gives lectures.
You see a baby drowning and you see your pet drowning. You only have time to save one.
Which one do you save?
He says that a majority of the college student pick their pet.
We are in big trouble.

Mercer said at August 18, 2013 10:07 PM:

" this mean we should extend human rights to dogs? "

No. It means people know dogs show more loyalty and appreciation for someone who treats them well.

This was not news to Mark Twain:

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”
― Mark Twain

Phil said at August 19, 2013 8:18 PM:

I've beaten my wife before, but I've never hit any of my dogs and I don't think I ever could. You just don't ever reach the same anger levels with your dogs as you do with your wife or with other people, so that may be part of it rather than simply more empathy.

rob said at August 20, 2013 2:06 PM:

People have more sympathy for the dog than the man because men (in general) have more options for avoiding future violence, getting revenge or justice than dogs do. I wonder what would happen if they asked about a man with Downs syndrome or an autistic adult vs dog. Helpless victims tend to elicit more sympathy. As Destructure says, an abused man elicits more contempt than sympathy. No one expects a dog to pull himself up by his bootstraps or whatever.

James Bowery said at August 21, 2013 9:53 AM:

It is important to recognize that the Enlightenment was as much a struggle against theocracy as it was for reason. This left a deficiency in Enlightenment philosophy in the social sciences that can be recognized in the failure of Enlightenment philosophers to realize that sorting proponents of social theories into governments that test them is the only reasonable -- meta-moral philosophy.

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