Nav: Home

Empathetic people experience dogs' expressions more strongly

February 03, 2017

Human empathy can even extend to dogs: empathetic people interpret dogs' facial expressions more intensely.

A study by the University of Helsinki and Aalto University explored how empathy and other psychological factors affect people's assessments of the facial images of dogs and humans.

The results show for the first time that human empathy, or the ability to share someone else's feelings or experiences, also affects perceptions of the facial expressions of pet dogs.

"Empathy affected assessments of dogs' facial expressions even more than previous experience of dogs, probably because the face is a biologically important stimulus for humans. Our earlier studies have showed, however, that when considering the entire body language of dogs, previous experience of dogs increases in importance," explains postdoctoral researcher Miiamaaria Kujala.

Based on previous results, the researchers knew that people with higher emotional empathy evaluated other people's expressions more quickly, accurately and often also more intensely.

However, Kujala notes that it is possible that they over-interpret the expressions of dogs.

"Empathy speeds up and intensifies the assessment of dogs' facial expressions, but defining the accuracy of such assessments is currently unreliable."

A threat is easier to perceive than happiness

Communication based on facial expressions has been studied in social mammals for decades. Darwin was already able to perceive similarities in mammals' expressions, but it has taken until the present day for researchers to begin to understand similarities between the emotional expressions of different species.

The Animal Mind research group has previously demonstrated that dogs clearly recognise the threatening expressions of both humans and other dogs.

"They gazed intensively at threatening dogs, but quickly looked away from threatening humans. Also human subjects were good at recognising the threatening expressions of dogs and considered them much more intense than similar human expressions," Kujala describes.

In contrast, people assessed happy faces more intensely in the case of humans than dogs. The researchers suggest that this may be due to the tendency to consider the faces of one's own species generally more pleasant.

On the other hand, people may find it difficult to recognise happiness in dogs based on their facial expressions. This is indicated by the fact that people experienced in dog training estimated the happy expressions of dogs as happier than others did.
-end-
Produced collaboratively by the University of Helsinki's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Faculty of Behavioural Sciences as well as Aalto University's Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering, the study entitled Human Empathy, Personality and Experience Affect the Emotion Ratings of Dog and Human Facial Expressions has been published in the PLOS ONE journal.

The Animal Mind research group of the University of Helsinki's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine collaborates with Aalto University and other partners in exploring phenomena related to the animal mind, such as cognition and emotions.

More information

Miiamaaria Kujala, postdoctoral researcher, Aalto University Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering as well as the University of Helsinki Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, phone +358 50 318 9724, miiamaaria.kujala@helsinki.fi

Sanni Somppi, doctoral student, University of Helsinki Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, phone +358 50 312 1019, sanni.somppi@helsinki.fi

University of Helsinki

Related Dogs Articles:

Urban dogs are more fearful than their cousins from the country
Inadequate socialisation, inactivity and an urban living environment are associated with social fearfulness in dogs.
Veterinarians: Dogs, too, can experience hearing loss
Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise.
Dogs and wolves are both good at cooperating
A team of researchers have found that dogs and wolves are equally good at cooperating with partners to obtain a reward.
Hidden danger from pet dogs in Africa
Researchers at the Universities of Abuja and Nigeria, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, have detected a potentially human-infective microbe in pet dogs in Nigeria.
How humans have shaped dogs' brains
Dog brain structure varies across breeds and is correlated with specific behaviors, according to new research published in JNeurosci.
Parasitic worms infect dogs, humans
A human infective nematode found in remote northern areas of Australia has been identified in canine carriers for the first time.
Better prognosticating for dogs with mammary tumors
For dogs with mammary tumors, deciding a course of treatment can depend on a variety of factors, some of which may seem to contradict one another.
Dogs mirror owner's stress
The levels of stress in dogs and their owners follow each other, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden.
Sleepovers reduce stress in shelter dogs
Foster care provides valuable information about dog behavior that can help homeless dogs living in shelters find forever homes.
Dogs know when they don't know
In a new study, researchers have shown that dogs possess some 'metacognitive' abilities -- specifically, they are aware of when they do not have enough information to solve a problem and will actively seek more information.
More Dogs News and Dogs Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.