Playing the Empathy Card


Playing the Empathy Card

Apart from a few rotten tomatoes in our society, everyone loves dogs. However, not less than our own babies, right? Well, an interesting study begs to differ. Northeastern University’s professors, Jack Levin and Arnold Arluke found out that we have almost equal empathy for puppies and dogs as well as for babies and kids of our own species. What’s even more interesting is that this research proved that we have a lot less empathy for adult humans.


Arluke and Levin made 240 sociology and anthropology students – respectively – to read a newspaper article they were made to believe was real. These students were of the age bracket of 18 to 25. There were four versions of the articles, assigned randomly. The stories varied in terms of the victim – an infant, a puppy, a six-year-old dog, and a 30-year-old individual. Students were told to mark their emotions on a scale of one to seven. The puppy and the dog had almost the same level of empathy, whereas the human baby was given slightly less empathy. The 30-year-old one didn’t get enough empathy, which meant that no one pretty much cares about the adults. “It appears that adult humans are viewed as capable of protecting themselves while full-grown dogs are just seen as larger puppies,” said Levin.


Another interesting phenomenon that came in front was how empathy towards the babies and dogs fluctuate subjectively. The relationship changes with respect to age. “Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering,” said Levin. “Our results indicate a much more complex situation with respect to the age and species of victims, with age being the more important component.”


Levin and Arluke will be continuing to explore the link between human violence and animal cruelty. They are curious to find out whether the dogs breed matters when it comes to empathising. However, that’s a question for another time!


Pranjali Wakde

pranjali wakde

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