New Study Reveals Dogs Understand Human Emotions

If you are one of the millions of dog owners across the globe who have told friends and family for years that you know your dog understands what type of mood you’re in, then you’ll be pleased to hear that a new study today confirms just this.

The findings released jointly by the University of Lincoln (UK) and the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil) show that dogs can recognise emotions in humans by combining information from different senses – an ability that has never previously been observed outside of humans.

The researchers presented 17 domestic dogs with pairings of images and sounds conveying different combinations of positive (happy or playful) and negative (angry or aggressive) emotional expressions in humans and dogs. These distinct sources of sensory input – photos of facial expressions and audio clips of vocalisations (voices or barks) from unfamiliar subjects – were played simultaneously to the animals, without any prior training.

The team found the dogs spent significantly longer looking at the facial expressions which matched the emotional state (or valence) of the vocalisation, for both human and canine subjects.

The integration of different types of sensory information in this way indicates that dogs have mental representations of positive and negative emotional states of others.

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.”

 

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