Animals more sensitive to the suffering of their fellow humans than humans?!

A French study – carried out between 2018 and 2021 – shows the psychological tension of human beings in the face of animal suffering, including at the altar of science. On the other hand, they seem less reluctant to make their fellows suffer, if we refer to Milgram’s famous experiment and its derivatives. What animals seem most refractory. The decryption of

Are humans more inclined to harm one of their fellows than an animal? This is what a recent study carried out by the University of Grenoble-Alpes suggests, together with the famous Milgram experiment carried out in the 1960s. The French experiment carried out between 2018 and 2021, and summarized in the work of Laurent Bègue-Sankland ” Facing the animals ” (Odile Jacob, 2022), tries to understand the factors that can influence our empathy for animals. The results of researchers from the University of Grenoble-Alpes testify to the psychological tension of the participants in the face of suffering ” of an animal whose life they must take for the interest of the species “. Explanations. Candidates had to “sacrifice”, in a progressive way, an animal victim: in appearance a large fish, but in reality a biomimetic robot. The reason given: to serve a scientific purpose, more particularly to assess toxicity If 20% of people categorically refused to start the experiment, 53% of the participants actually injected the last toxic and lethal dose.

empathy: one biased affective resonance »

I wouldn’t have thought I’d get attached to a fish like that.

Participant in the study at the University of Grenoble-Alpes

Despite this, the testimonies collected at the end of the experiment show a certain empathy of the participants in relation to the fish. ” Almost cried in the middle, couldn’t press the button, he didn’t look good “laments a student. ” I wouldn’t have thought I’d get attached to a fish like that. He was fat, he was handsome “, adds a fifty-year-old man. Some admit to having stopped the experiment when his gaze met the fish’s: ” VShas touched meone of the participants is moved. I felt something in your eyes “.” Crossing your gaze, there is a bond that is createdadds a student. Why impose this on him? ” Gold, ” the experience of empathy is not the most common reaction to a fishrecalls L. Bègue Sankland. Its aquatic appearance does not provoke as protective reactions as other animals closer to us, such as mammals. Because empathy is a very biased affective resonance “. Nonetheless, ” we know today that fish have complex cognitive abilities, recalls Violaine Colson, a fish behavior research engineer. They also feel emotions (fear, anxiety, pain); and pleasure also seems to have been demonstrated even though there are few studies on the subject. »

The cruelest humans…

Even so, the percentage of people “ready” to make the animal suffer remains below that observed in experiments carried out among humans. In 1963, Milgram’s famous experiment showed that 60% of the participants – humans – could administer an electric shock to another person, under the pretense that a scientist – Professor Stanley Milgram – had asked them to do so. A behavior confirmed many times after that. 50 years later, Christophe Nick’s “La Zone Xtreme” game show repeats the experience; and the conclusion is clear: 80% of the participants agreed to subject another candidate to an electric shock, under pressure not from a scientist… but from a facilitator! Each time, the victims were actually actors faking pain, which, of course, the “torturers” were unaware of.

than animals!

The “grandmother” giraffes play an important role in the survival of group members.

Zoe Muller – Biologist

In similar situations, our 30 million friends behave more altruistically. An American study, carried out in 1964, shows that 80% of the observed monkeys preferred to stop operating the chain that delivered food to them when they understood that this process caused pain to one of their congeners. Same result in mice (Current Biology, 2020). ” Some participants help others because seeing someone in pain creates a state of aversion called ‘personal distress’ which they try to reduce ‘selfishly’ by helpingexplains the study. Other participants are more altruistic and help even if they don’t have to witness the victim’s suffering “.

If the behavior of humans can be surprising, that of animals is not so surprising, given the many cases of animal solidarity that have already been observed. Giraffes, monkeys, whales… All these animals are known to form close social bonds with each other (Mammal Review, August 2021).

animal solidarity

Thus, thanks to the care they provide and the knowledge they transmit, the “grandparents” giraffes are likely to play an important role in the survival of the members of the group to which they are related. says biologist Zoe Muller. In his book “The Age of Empathy” (Actes Sud, 2011), Frans de Wall mentions, among other things, altruism in monkeys. When he can choose between a token that entitles him to food and one that also rewards his companion, a capuchin monkey always chooses the one that will please everyone! Among cetaceans, solidarity can even be interspecies! In a 2009 wildlife documentary, researcher Robert Pitman watches humpback whales startle orcas trying to catch seals. A case far from isolated.

In short, fraternity and sorority are not concepts specific to the human species… on the contrary. Animals teach us compassion: it’s up to us to be inspired!


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