yes, therapy helps!
When pets matter to us more than humans

When pets matter to us more than humans

March 22, 2024

It seems evident that we tend to empathize more with those people we know well: our friends, family members and, in general, the people we have been seeing from time to time for many years.

From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense that this is so , because worrying about the closest members of our community is a way to increase the chances that a large part of our genes, which are also found in people with a lineage close to ours, will be passed on to future generations.

This scheme of the social functioning of all human beings may seem robust, but it is far from explaining everything. What happens, for example, when there are members of our community who are not even of our species? Can it be normal for us to be able to feel more empathy for a non-human animal than for a person ? This possibility does not seem far-fetched, judging by what was explained earlier in this article, but there are also specific studies that address our way of empathizing with humans and pets and the preferences we show among each other.


Empathy does not understand species

A few years ago, the sociologists of the Northeastern University Arnold Arluke and Jack Levin decided to find out To what extent is it true that we tend to empathize more with pets or with people . To do this, they showed 240 men and women a text with the appearance of a newspaper article describing criminal acts. These stories included a part in which one could read how an assailant had beaten someone using a bat. baseball. In a version of the article that was only read by some people, this assailant attacked a puppy dog ​​until breaking some bones and leaving him unconscious, while in alternative versions of this same article who received the blows was an adult dog, a baby or an adult human being of about 30 years.


After reading one of these versions of the article, and not knowing that these were fictional stories, each of the people who participated in the study scored on a scale the degree to which they empathized with the victim and they felt distressed by what had happened to her. The results do not leave the adult human being in a very happy position, whose history left most of the volunteers indifferent. The article that produced the most consternation was that of the human baby, followed closely by the puppy, while the story of the adult dog was in third position.

Arluke and Levin point out that when it comes to awakening feelings of empathy, both species and age matter. However, the variable that seems to explain most our emotional response in these cases is not the species of the being that is in danger, but the degree to which we perceive that he is a helpless and helpless being . In this way, it can be explained why an adult dog awakens us more compassion than a human being of 30 years. The first one seems less able to protect his own life because he lives in a world controlled by our species.


Time to choose: would you save a human or an animal?

In another experiment led by members of the Georgia Regents University and the Cape Fear Community College, several researchers focused on how we empathize with animals when faced with a moral dilemma. Specifically, they set out to see to what extent we behave better with animals or with humans using a group of 573 people of practically all ages as shown. These participants were placed in a hypothetical situation in which an uncontrolled bus endangered the life of two beings (a human and a dog) and they had to choose which of the two to save .

The results of this study, published in the journal Anthrozoos, show once again how empathy with pets or humans can not be predicted only by attending to the species to which the potential victim belongs. When giving an answer, the participants took into account who was the human at risk and who was the dog. 40% of people preferred to help the dog when it was described as his pet and the human was an anonymous tourist , and something similar happened when the person was someone unknown from the same city (37% opted to save the dog). But only 14% preferred to save the dog when both he and the person were anonymous.

Interestingly, in addition, the women who participated in the experiment showed a greater propensity to offer protection to the quadruped. More or less, the possibility of choosing to save the dog was doubled when the respondent was a woman.

Animals of first ... and second

Of course, this last experiment moves in the realm of the imaginary, and possibly does not correspond exactly with what would happen in a real situation. On second thought, something tells me that if there really is a scenario in which a bus rushes on a person and a dog the instinctive reaction of most observers would not be to decide which of the two to save with a timely push. However, it is curious to see how some animals have managed to enter the area of ​​our moral operations and are capable of being treated as beings towards whom guide our decisions and our ethics .

Despite this, we know that being an animal of one or another species greatly influences the way of being considered. You only need to see how some cats have managed to take over Youtube, while other species (mosquitoes, spiders, mice, birds of prey ...) seem to awaken in a large part of the population a tremendous desire to kill.

The species matters, yes, but it is not everything. We may just spontaneously empathize with some evolutionary prepared species to live with us and that the rest be treated as little more than raw material of the meat industry, but for now we know that we are not programmed to protect only those of our lineage. Our most distant relatives are perfectly capable of being considered as important as any person, if not more so.


What animals are thinking and feeling, and why it should matter | Carl Safina | TEDxMidAtlantic (March 2024).


Similar Articles