Dogs Read Facial Expressions Much Like Humans, Study Finds

Posted: Jan 30 2016, 7:07pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 1 2016, 9:18pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Dogs Can Read Facial Expressions Like Humans, Study Finds
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Dogs tend to look away when they sense their owners are angry .

New research has found that dogs can read the facial expressions of humans. They can sense when humans or their owners are angry and respond accordingly.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that dogs can read facial expressions pretty much like humans do. Canines determine the meaning of an expression by looking at the whole face but focus is always on the eyes.

Different facial expressions can bring different changes in their viewing behavior especially a threatening human face can evoke an evasive response. When humans are angry, dogs prefer to avoid looking at them. 

For the study, researchers trained a total of 31 dogs of 13 different breeds. They trained them to stay still in front of video screen. Then, they were shown facial photos of threatening, pleasant and neutral expressions. Nearby cameras tracked the eye movement of the dog with each expression. 

It was found that dogs looked first at the eye region and focus their gaze on it longest than nose or mouth areas. When they looked at the expressions of angry dogs, they focus on the area of mouth. Dogs showed avoidance response and turned away their gaze when they looked at angry human face. This reaction may be based on an evolutionary adaptive mechanism, meaning detecting and avoiding threat signals for their survival.

“The tolerant behavior strategy of dogs towards humans may partially explain the results,” said researcher Sanni Somppi from University of Helsinki. “Domestication may have equipped dogs with a sensitivity to detect the threat signals of humans and respond them with pronounced appeasement signals.”

Appropriate response to emotional signals is important for all social creatures but very little was known about how animals especially dogs view and read facial expressions in non-primates. Dogs reactions may be evolved as they were domesticated and benefited them avoiding conflicts with humans.

The findings provide better understanding of the processing of facial expressions and sensitivity to social threat in animals.

The study was published in PLOS One.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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