Everyone knows dogs are man's best friend, but new research suggests that we may empathise with them more than we do with our own species.
A study has found that people are more moved by the suffering of pooches than they are by the suffering of other humans.
Scientists at Northeastern University in Boston found that the plights of puppies and children elicited the strongest responses, but that people were more likely to empathise with an injured dog than they were an injured adult.
Researchers have suggested that this could be because dogs are seen as more helpless and vulnerable than humans and are incapable of properly defending themselves.
Professor Jack Levin and Professor Arnold Arluke, from Northeastern University in Boston collated and studied the responses from 240 participants, each of whom received one of four fictional news stories.
"Arriving on the scene a few minutes after the attack, a police officer found the victim with one broken leg, multiple lacerations, and unconscious. No arrests have been made in the case," the police report read.
In each of the versions the victim was changed - one concerned the beating of a 30-year old man, another concerned a one-year-old child and the remaining two were about a puppy and a six-year-old dog.
Credit: Tyler Allen (Creative Commons)
Where the puppy and the child were concerned, results didn't vary too much, but when it came to the adult and the dog, people were more likely to be moved by the suffering of the latter.
"Respondents were significantly less distressed when adult humans were victimised," researchers wrote.
The study's results are backed up by a campaign back in 2015.
The campaign asked: "Would you give £5 to save Harrison from a slow, painful death?"
Credit: Harrison's Fund
In one version 'Harrison' referred to a human, and in the other the name was ascribed to a dog.
The version of the advert featuring the pup garnered much more attention than the one featuring the child - suggesting that we empathise more readily with our four-legged friends.
Credit: Harrison's Fund
Discussing the recent study's results, Professor Levin told the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association: "The fact adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do child, puppy, and full-grown dog victims suggests adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable, not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids.
"In addition, it appears that adult humans are viewed as capable of protecting themselves while full-grown dogs are just seen as larger puppies."
He also thought that results would be similar if dogs were replaced by cats, saying: "These are animals to which many individuals attribute human characteristics."
Words: Paddy Maddison