We all know companion animals play a vital role in one person’s happiness and mental health. Sometimes, humans even love their companionship even better than other humans. Recently, a group of experts conducted a survey to further understand whether humans really do love their pets more than other people.

Professors Jack Levin, Arnold Arluke, and Leslie Irvine asked 240 students to read a fictional news story. Each student were randomly given a different fictional story. The only difference is the victim in the story: an infant, a puppy, and adult dog or an adult human. They were also asked to indicate the level of empathy they have towards the victim.

In an interview with Bored Panda, Arluke, one of the professors and a senior scholar at the Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy, explained their study and what they found.

The study aims to identify how much the respondents were emotionally disturbed by reports of human and animal suffering and abuse. According to the report, the idea for this came from how the media evoke greater emotional reactions with stories that involve animal victims rather than human victims.

The study showed that the victim’s age was a key factor in triggering the respondents’ empathy. Infant victims received the most empathy, while puppies and adult dogs came in between the two human options. Gender also played a key factor. Female participants were more likely to be empathetic than males.

The experts suggest that respondents were more empathetic towards infants because they are viewed as similar to themselves. They also think infants and dogs are more vulnerable. “Perceived similarity and vulnerability are themselves normative to a degree,” Arluke said.

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