This empathy exists for robots irrespective of their form — a dinosaur-shaped robot and humanoid robot both elicited the same empathetic response.
This finding comes from two separate studies carried out by the University of Duisburg Essen in Germany. The first study asked 40 participants to watch a video where a small dinosaur-shaped robot was either treated violently or affectionately. Their physiological arousal (heart rate, pupil dilation, perspiration) was measured while they watched the video, and they were asked for their emotional state after watching the videos. When the dinobot was treated violently, the participants felt worse and showed more physiological arousal.
The second study is slightly more objective: 14 participants were scanned using functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI) while they watched videos of a human, robot, and inanimate object being treated affectionately and violently. While the inanimate object did not trigger a neurological response, the affectionate human and robot videos both triggered similar responses in the limbic system — a region of the forebrain that contains the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus, which are involved in emotional and other autonomic nervous system (fight-or-flight) responses.