Degrees of Empathy: Humans’ Empathy Toward Humans, Animals, Robots and Objects

  • Alan D. A. MattiassiEmail author
  • Mauro Sarrica
  • Filippo Cavallo
  • Leopoldina Fortunati
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering book series (LNEE, volume 540)


The aim of this paper is to present an experiment in which we compare the degree of empathy that a convenience sample of students expressed with humans, animals, robots and objects. The present study broadens the spectrum of the elements eliciting empathy that previous research has so far explored separately. Our research questions are: does the continuum represented by this set of elements elicit empathy? Is it possible to observe a linear decrease of empathy according to different features of the selected elements? More broadly, does empathy, as a construct, resist in front of the diversification of the element eliciting it? Results show that participants expressed empathy differently when exposed to three clusters of social actors being mistreated: they felt more sad, sorry, aroused and out of control for animals than for humans, but showed little to no empathy for objects. Interestingly, robots that looked more human-like evoked emotions similar to those evoked by humans, while robots that looked more animal-like evoked emotions half-way between those evoked by humans and objects. Implications are discussed.


Empathy Robots Social robotics Social distance Human-object continuum Living-nonliving continuum 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan D. A. Mattiassi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mauro Sarrica
    • 2
  • Filippo Cavallo
    • 3
  • Leopoldina Fortunati
    • 4
  1. 1.“Marco Biagi” Department of EconomicsUniversity of Modena and Reggio EmiliaModenaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Communication and Social ResearchSapienza, University of RomeRomeItaly
  3. 3.The Biorobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’AnnaPisaItaly
  4. 4.Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and PhysicsUniversity of UdineUdineItaly

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