A new study analyzed how toddlers respond when they see dogs that need help getting a treat
Published January 31, 2023 3:58PM (EST)
Dog and boy sharing a pretzel (Getty Images/svetikd)
Raising a dog is a lot like raising a baby: both have a predilection for eating food off of the floor, lack the fine motor coordination to avoid making a mess when they eat, and speak in nonsensical sounds. The two of them also seem to share another bond, too: evidently, some innate tendency to communicate and empathize with dogs exists in human children. The findings have intriguing suggestions for how empathy is hard-wired in human children.
Between 2015 and 2020, researchers at the University of Michigan studied the way toddlers react to unfamiliar dogs when those canine companions communicate distress. Among a group of 97 children (including 51 girls and 46 boys) aged 2 or 3 years — 44 of whom had dogs as pets — scientists found that, half of the time, they would assist a dog if the animal indicated that it wanted a toy or treat which had been placed out of reach. This conclusion is important because it reveals that children are capable of empathy and altruism toward animals outside of their own species.
“It’s been known for a long time that toddlers will go out of their way to help struggling humans, even strangers,” study co-author Henry Wellman, the Harold W. Stevenson Collegiate Professor Emeritus of Psychology at University of Michigan, said in a statement. “But perhaps such altruism is specially evolved for and targeted toward other humans (who after all might help them back). But no, it applies to other animals too, like dogs th