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Would You Save A Person - Or Your Dog?

Jul 30 / Sally Gutteridge
If you had to choose between saving your dog or another adult human - what would you do? One study showed that a whole third of people would save their dog.

Many research studies have shown that humans love dogs more than people. In fact, humans may even have more empathy towards dogs than they do for other people. People care deeply for their dogs, and it has been shown time and time again during studies. In addition, one researcher has evaluated the empathy levels between humans and their dogs.

Humans may even be more distressed by the suffering of a dog than the suffering of a human. When a researcher asked a group of people if they would save a human being or their pet dog from being hit and killed by a bus, more than one-third of people chose to save their dog. In fact, human beings are more likely to emphasise with a dog than an adult human, and that the level of concern for dogs and young children is seen equally in humans.

Yet, while humans feel empathy towards their dogs, dogs also feel empathy towards their humans. However, many will consider this as a less developed form of empathy called emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is a more primitive form of empathy that does not require higher psychological functioning such as the type of emotional understanding seen in humans.

Many research studies have shown that emotional contagion exists between humans as well as various other species. Because the dog is among one of the oldest domesticated species, they have become so woven into human society and bonded with their guardians that these dogs have developed the ability to read human emotions. Because of this, it is very likely that dogs do have emotional contagion between themselves and humans. In fact, one research study found that the emotional contagion from a dog guardian two their dog is strong and is especially prominent in female dogs.

When dogs were tested to react to distressed guardians, researchers found that the dogs did have increased cortisol levels. Additionally, when a dog was exposed to a crying guardian, the dogs were found to look and approach their humans as well as engage in gazing and looking behaviours. This research study showed that dogs are likely in tune with human emotions.

In another study, researchers tested whether or not dogs would react to human distress calls. To do this, researchers measured the dogs' reactions as well as their heart rate to see if they physically reacted to the strange situation. These researchers found the dogs who heard their guardian’s distress calls were more likely to open a closed door than a dog who heard someone simply humming. In fact, the dogs were significantly faster at opening the door if they heard their guardian crying. This study further showed that dogs do have the capacity to feel empathy and react to human emotion.

But why is empathy important?

Empathy is important simply because it connects you to others in your life and helps you experience connections in deep and meaningful ways. Utilising empathy, the ability to understand and interpret others' emotions, is not only a means of survival but can help lower your stress and guide your moral compass. Empathy is also important for establishing connections with other humans, and of course, your dog.

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