University study finds that dogs really can read human emotion
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University study finds that dogs really can read human emotion

University study finds that dogs really can read human emotion

Researchers from the University of Lincoln and the University of Sao Paulo have discovered that dogs can identify human emotion by merging crucial information from different senses.

The qualified team of specialists in animal behaviour and psychology found that man’s best friend forms abstract mental images to represent both positive and negative emotional behaviour, as opposed to displaying behaviour that is purely learned.

Canines are the only creatures other than humans to have demonstrated such ability.

“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,” said Dr Kun Guo, researcher from the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology.

The experiment used 17 domestic dogs to determine the extent to which they recognise and understand human emotion; the dogs were each shown a pair of pictures, either of a person – one happy and one angry – or of a dog – looking either playful or aggressive. The dogs were then played sounds of playful or aggressive barks, or of a person saying “venha ca” (Portuguese for “come here”) in similar tones of voice.

Scientists found that the dogs were able to accurately match each picture with a tone of voice, singling out the correct human expression a significant number of times. The canine ability to recognise tone in other dogs is even more impressive, according to the study.

The experiment used 17 domestic dogs to determine the extent to which they recognise and understand human emotion; the dogs were each shown a pair of pictures, either of a person – one happy and one angry – or of a dog – looking either playful or aggressive. The dogs were then played sounds of playful or aggressive barks, or of a person saying “venha ca” (Portuguese for “come here”) in similar tones of voice. Scientists found that the dogs were able to accurately match each picture with a tone of voice, singling out the correct human expression a significant number of times. The canine ability to recognise tone in other dogs is even more impressive, according to the study.

“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,” adds Guo. “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.”

The scientists believe the canine ability to detect human emotion may have been selected over generations of domestication. Findings from the study are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Additional reporting by The Telegraph.

Image via Shutterstock.

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