There’s a high-speed bus barreling toward you with no signs of slowing down. Your pet dog and a foreign tourist stand in its path, deer-in-the-headlights style. You can only save one. Which do you choose?
About 40 percent of participants faced with this hypothetical would save their dog’s life rather than the foreigner’s, according to researchers at Georgia Regents University and Cape Fear Community College. That number is higher for women, at about 45 percent.
The research article, published in the journal Anthrozoos, also found that those who said they would choose their dog over the stranger had several disparate ways to defend their moral judgment. For example, just over 25 percent said that “the tourist should be smart enough to get out of the way,” while more than half simply said, “I love my pet.”
In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, professor and author Robert Sapolsky said he considers the findings troubling proof of how easily we dehumanize people who are different from us. He notes:
We can extend empathy to another organism and feel its pain like no other species. But let’s not be too proud of ourselves. As this study and too much of our history show, we’re pretty selective about how we extend our humaneness to other human beings.
All this puppy love isn’t inherently problematic, though. Dog owners experience a host of physical and emotional benefits from bonding with their pooch. (One Mental Floss article provides a head-to-toe analysis of the benefits of dog ownership.) And, as Psychology Today notes, 81 percent of dog owners consider their dog to be part of the family, according to a Kelton Research survey.
That said, according to the study, only 2 percent of dog owners would choose their dog’s life if it meant sacrificing an immediate blood relative.