‘The Lassie Effect’: Study links dogs and empathy

Posted at 3:35 PM, Jul 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-25 18:35:51-04

New research suggests dogs could be real-life heroes if their owners are in distress.  It’s called the "Lassie Effect."The iconic canine TV star routinely saved his pal, Timmy, who is referenced in the title of a new study of dog empathy called, in part, "Timmy’s in the well!"Emily Sanford is a grad student at Johns Hopkins University, but she helped do the research at Macalester College in Minnesota.Behind a closed door, dog owners either hummed a song or faked crying, causing most dogs to eventually go to their owners."But the interesting thing that we found is that the dogs would open the door significantly more quickly if the owner was crying," Sanford said.Sanford and her team also tried the experiment with therapy dogs and were surprised to find that they did not act more quickly than other animals."It’s possible that because therapy dogs are trained on obedience rather than sensitivity to human emotions, that might be why we didn’t find a difference there," said Sanford.