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Image / Editorial

Study Confirms That Dogs Can Read Human Emotions


by Jennifer McShane
15th Jan 2016
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It’s no secret by now that dogs are incredibly perceptive creatures. Numerous studies have been done proving that not only is having a dog beneficial for the betterment of your overall health, they can help reduce anxiety in children and they also have unique capabilities that mean they can tell what mood you’re in. However, a new study has taken the latter theory one step further. Researchers have confirmed what we already suspected: that our canine friends are capable of recognising different emotions in humans. They do this by combining information from different senses.

While some dog behaviour is learnt, the researchers say the dogs assessed showed the ability to combine different emotional cues to form abstract mental ideas of emotion. And they can do it across species – something no other species, bar us, has been observed doing, according to the tests.

Seventeen domestic dogs in the experiment were shown pairs of pictures, either of a person, one happy, one angry, or of a dog looking playful or aggressive. They were then played sounds of playful or aggressive barks or a person’s voice saying ‘venha ca? (Portuguese for ?come here?) in either a cheerful or angry tone.

The scientists found that the dogs tended to look at the picture that matched the tone of the voice, picking out the right human facial expression more often than not.

Your dog is legitimately able to tell when you feel this happy.
Your dog is legitimately able to tell when you feel this happy.

And according to the authors, the study showed that dogs could go beyond recognising facial cues to actual emotional perception, so it really is no coincidence that your pup automatically knows to comfort you when you’re feeling blue, for example.

Researcher Dr Kun Guo, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology, said: ?Previous studies have indicated that dogs can differentiate between human emotions from cues such as facial expressions, but this is not the same as emotional recognition.”

?Our study shows that dogs have the ability to integrate two different sources of sensory information into a coherent perception of emotion in both humans and dogs.”

“To do so requires a system of internal categorisation of emotional states. This cognitive ability has until now only been evidenced in primates and the capacity to do this across species only seen in humans.?

Co-author Professor Daniel Mills, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, added: ?It has been a long-standing debate whether dogs can recognise human emotions. Many dog owners report anecdotally that their pets seem highly sensitive to the moods of human family members. However, there is a significant difference between associative behaviour, such as learning to respond appropriately to an angry voice, and recognising a range of very different cues that go together to indicate emotional arousal in another,” he explained. “Our findings are the first to show that dogs truly recognise emotions in humans and other dogs.”

?Importantly, the dogs in our trials received no prior training or period of familiarisation with the subjects in the images or audio. This suggests that dogs’ ability to combine emotional cues may be intrinsic.”

So pooches truly are just that bright. The impressive findings, while hardly surprising, are just one of the many reasons we will forever have a special love for man’s best friend.

See more on the study here.

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