Animal Empathy Tends to Be Lower in Men, But Pet Ownership Could Change That

When we bring home a new pet, we take on responsibility for their health and happiness. New research shows this sort of responsibility may help men specifically grow their levels of empathy toward animals.

A new study published in the journal Animal Welfare looked at how men’s personal interactions with animals shape their empathy toward them. Men were the focus, researchers say, because women are known to have higher levels of animal empathy than men, and this can impact not just animals.


Dr. Jessica Oliva, study co-author and senior lecturer in psychology at James Cook University in Australia, explains, “Compromised abilities to feel empathy in men can have devastating effects on both animals and humans alike. Animal abuse was committed by almost half of all male perpetrators of intimate partner violence, according to studies of a US population.

“So, increasing our understanding of the role human-animal interactions play in the development of [animal empathy] has far-reaching implications, particularly in males.”

To conduct their study, Dr. Oliva and her team surveyed 91 Australian men, asking them about their experience with animals and what they think has influenced their viewpoints on how animals think and feel. The responses came from men who owned pets, those who work as farmers, and those with limited animal experience.


The findings showed that the highest levels of animal empathy were in pet owners, while all three groups said their experiences with animals as adults had shaped their beliefs about animals and their sentience. This was true even for farmers, despite their background of being more textbook educated on the topic.

The team says the findings suggest that pet ownership, and the responsibility and sacrifice it entails, may be the experience with the biggest impact on boosting animal empathy. This could help explain how to increase this feeling in men.

Dr. Oliva explains, “Our results support the idea that not all experiences are worth the same, with the adult responsibility and sacrifice involved in caring for animals – without the expectation of financial gain – appearing to be most influential to the development of animal empathy.”


So, if you’re a man who’s never had a pet, or you know a man who’s leaning toward adopting his first dog or cat, a visit to the local shelter may do some good.

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