A new study published in the journal Biology Letters of the Royal Society states that dogs are capable of differentiating human facial emotions and their emotions – by simply aggregating information from various senses to determine the emotional states of both humans and dogs.
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This is the first time that researchers would establish that dogs can interpret and respond to human or fellow dog’s emotions through abstract mental representations. The study shows that dogs fully understand positive and negative emotions in humans and dogs alike.
This knowledge was published by psychologists and animal behavior experts from the University of Lincoln in the UK and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
In conducting the research, 17 local dogs were exposed to image and sound pairs that conveyed combined happy and angry, or playful and aggressive expressions in both dogs and humans. These were conveyed as facial image expressions and audio clips of human voices or dog barks; these photos and audio sounds were played to untrained dogs at the same time.
The researchers discovered that the dogs stared more intently on the facial photos that corresponded with the emotional state of the sounds being played, and this occurred for both humans and dogs alike. This showed that dogs are able to mentally represent negative and positive emotions of others via sensory information they deduce from what they see.
Dr. Kun Guo of the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology noted that “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.”
He further noted that a dog is capable of integrating two different sources of sensory information and combine them into a perfect understanding of what fellow dogs and humans are going through emotionally.
“To do so requires a system of internal categorization 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,” he said.
Professor Daniel Mills of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln further added that humans had long debated the ability of dogs to recognize and differentiate human emotions, citing that dog owners often say their dogs are sort of sensitive to the moods of members of the family.
“However, there is an important difference between associative behavior, such as learning to respond appropriately to an angry voice, and recognizing a range of very different cues that go together to indicate emotional arousal in another,” Prof. Mills revealed. “Our findings are the first to show that dogs truly recognize emotions in humans and other dogs.”
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The researchers noted that the dogs recruited for the study had no prior training whatever or got familiar with the subjects revealed in the images or the content of the audio sounds they listened to, meaning that dogs have the intrinsic ability to deduce human and dog emotions by studying the subject.