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Past studies have shown that toddlers are very helpful toward struggling people, even strangers, but questions remain about whether this altruism extends to other species.
It does, according to the Guardian.
A new research paper showed children as young as two would go out of their way to help dogs get toys or tasty treats, despite lacking any relationship with the animal.
In their experiments, a research team recruited 97 toddlers between the ages of 20 and 47 months and watched them interact with three child-friendly dogs. Separating them with a fence, the researchers dropped toys or snacks on the child’s side – just beyond the dog’s reach.
Afterward, the toddlers were twice as likely to give the items to the pups when the dogs showed interest, such as whimpering or pawing after the objects.
Meanwhile, when the dogs were interested in the objects, the children assisted in half of the situations, but only in a quarter of the cases when the pooches were not.
The results showed that toddlers not only understood the canines’ wishes but also helped them despite slim chances of the animals returning the favor, the team noted.
Lead author Rachna Reddy explained that the study is significant because it underscores how humans’ friendly behavior toward other species could have helped in animal domestication.
“Why we came to domesticate animals is a big mystery, and this is one piece of evidence that might help us to understand that mystery,” she said.