It’s national dog day, and to celebrate I found a special science story that may help explain why we humans get along so well with these irresistible furballs.
It turns out that dogs can read and understand human emotions by combining information from their different senses! Some of you might be saying “well duh,” but this is actually the first time a study has ever shown that animals had this ability (outside of other humans and some primates). Previously, scientists believed that dogs could simply recognize human facial expressions, and then would exhibit a learned behavior that matched that emotion. For example, a smiling face would make the dog wag its tail, while an angry face would make it retreat.
However, the group of researchers at the University of Lincoln tried something a little different. They showed a group of domesticated dogs combinations of audio clips and images of facial expressions, which were either happy and playful, or aggressive and angry. The scientists found that the dogs spent a much longer time looking at and reacting to facial expressions that matched the emotion of the accompanying audio clip. When the facial expression did not match the emotion of the audio clip, the dogs paid less attention and were less likely to react. This suggests that a dog’s understanding of human emotion goes way deeper than a simple learned reaction. Domesticated dogs are able to combine information from two different senses to create a mental representation of emotion and the way humans behave when they are feeling a certain way.
Since their domestication, humans and dogs have evolved together in many ways. So if you feel that your dog understands you better than anyone else, you are probably right.
Happy National Dog Day!
Want to learn more? Visit https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160112214507.htm