Every now and again we discover that some of our beliefs are supported by scientific research. Recent research using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) shows that "vegetarians and vegans appear to have more of an empathetic response to both human and animal suffering ... FMRI brain scans showed that the areas of the brain associated with empathy (such as the anterior cingulate cortex and the left inferior frontal gyrus in this study) were more activated in vegetarians and vegans compared to omnivores when all three groups were shown pictures of human or animal suffering. Written questionnaires on empathy, in both this and other studies, seem to confirm higher empathy levels in vegetarians and vegans (Preyo and Arkiwawa, 2008; Filippi et al 2010)." (I could not find the reference to Preyo and Arkiwawa, 2008 but the entire essay by Filippi et al., 2010 is here.)

I've been thinking about this general topic and relationship for a long time and I agree with the conclusion of the essay in which these results are reported, namely that "Most animal advocates also care deeply about a broad spectrum of social justice and humanitarian causes." I've always believed that "compassion begets compassion" and easily crosses species lines. I welcome more research in this area from both social scientists and neuroscientists. 

Recent Posts in Animal Emotions

Dogs Don't Remember Yesterday, Claims Psychologist

Ample data show dogs and other animals remember the past and plan for the future

Why SeaWorld Can’t Float: Censorship and Business Ethics

Watch a critical presentation that SeaWorld asked not to be recorded

Entangled Empathy: How to Improve Human-Animal Relationships

A recent book sets out a new ethic for our relationships with other animals.

Wicked Tuna: NGS Supports Animal Abuse and Poor Conservation

This series continues on showing incredible torment and torture of sentient tuna

New Conservation Science is Misguided and Too Much About Us

The view that conservation should focus on human self-interests is wrong-minded

Animals in Emergencies: Lessons from the Christchurch Quakes

Annie Potts and Donelle Gadenne's book is a must read for future animal rescues.