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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...

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26 December 2017

Dogs recognize our emotions, and they don’t like it when they see angry


Please welcome today's guest contributor, Natalia de Souza Albuquerque, a PhD Student at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and the University of Lincoln, UK.


Natalia's wonderful dog, Polly.
Hello Dog Believers!

The title of this post might seem obvious to dog owners, but it turns out there’s a lot more to the emotional world of dogs than most people expected. That’s what I want to share here today.

You will probably agree with me that the relationship between dogs and people is quite unique. In fact, dogs seem especially connected to human beings, in a way that no other two animal species are. And the secret of this fascinating relationship may rely on a very important ability: to read and respond to our emotions. 

Emotions are a very interesting (and complex!) research topic. They encompass the mechanisms we have to assess our physical and social surroundings, and they are also linked to how we perceive and respond to different stimuli. 

Recent studies have shown dogs are very sensitive to our emotional expressions: they can discriminate between happy, neutral and angry faces. They look at facial expressions in different ways depending on the content of the image, and they can link together different parts of a face that are expressing the same emotion (e.g. happy mouth with happy eyes).


Happy.

But do dogs actually recognise the information conveyed in certain facial expressions or vocalisations? Do dogs understand that angry facial expressions mean ‘angry’ and respond to them accordingly? Aiming to answer these questions, we (Dr. Briseida Resende from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Prof. Daniel Mills, Dr. Kun Guo, and Dr. Anna Wilkinson from the University of Lincoln, UK and I) decided to run a broad, non-invasive study.

We showed domestic dogs pairs of facial expressions on a screen: one angry and one happy (images were of the same individual, which could be a dog or a human—either female or male). At the same time they saw the facial expressions, dogs also heard a happy, angry, or neutral sound. In this type of set up, if an individual recognises the emotional content of the faces and voices, they will look longer towards the positive face when listening to the positive sound and look longer towards the negative face when listening to the negative sound. Essentially, recognition is indicated by "matching" what they see with what they hear.


Examples of stimuli used in the study: faces (human happy vs angry, dog playful vs aggressive) & correspondent vocalizations.

The first step was to do a thorough analysis of the looking behaviour of each dog. What we found was fascinating! Dogs were really good at linking sound and image of the same emotion, regardless of species (dog or human), gender (female or male), content (positive or negative), or side of presentation (on the left or on the right-side of the screen). This means that dogs have a cognitive representation of positive and negative emotions. 


Dog looking at screen and hearing auditory stimuli.
To clarify what happened, picture this: let’s say you are in a room all by yourself, and you hear someone laughing outside. What would you expect to see? Someone happy or someone angry? Happy, right? This is because we have stored in our memory several features of a “happy emotion” (visual, auditory, etc.) and we use this in our day-to-day lives. The ability to recognise emotions of one’s own species had previously only been shown in humans and other primates, and the ability to recognise emotions of another species was thought to be unique to humans… until dogs showed us they are way more complex than we imagined!

The second step was to undertake a detailed examination of dogs’ mouth-licking behaviour (the behaviour to lick around one’s own “mouth area”). We were particularly interested whether dogs in the study mouth-licked when they saw the different facial expressions and heard the different sounds. Although there is a quite extensive body of literature that uses mouth-licking as a stress response in dogs, no study had systematically investigated its association with the actual perception of negative emotions in dogs. And what we found was that this display has a lot more to tell us than we thought.


The behavior of interest.
Mouth-licking in dogs is more than the expression of a desire to be fed or a simple response to uncertainties and general discomfort. In fact, the occurrence of this display was dependent on (a) the emotion: dogs licked more often when they saw negative faces; (b) the sensory modality: dogs mouth-licked more often when seeing negative emotions, but not when hearing negative emotions and (c) the species of the stimulus: dogs licked more often when they saw angry humans in comparison with angry dogs. 

In other words, dogs seem to have perceived our angry faces as unpleasant, which changed their own emotional state and triggered mouth-licking. Since we found that dogs responded to angry human faces especially, and that only the visual cues influenced the occurrence of the display, we believe that mouth-licking in dogs may be a cue that signals a dog’s perception of negative information. These abilities may have been selected for (probably unintentionally) during domestication, as they facilitate dog-human communication. Want to see the study in action? Here is a short video clip:

 
Dogs are multi-faceted animals and they possess very complex cognitive abilities. Our research findings lead to the idea that dogs are not only able to recognise and respond to emotions of humans, but also may be capable of understanding them at some level. 


Natalia de Souza Albuquerque
~ Stay in touch with Natalia on Twitter, Facebook, & ResearchGate

References
Albuquerque N., Guo K., Wilkinson A., Savalli C., Otta E., Mills D. (2016). Dogs recognize dog and humans emotions. Biology Letters, 12.

Albuquerque N., Guo K., Wilkinson A., Resende B., Mills D.S. (2017). Mouth-licking by dogs as a response to emotional stimuli. Behavioural Processes.


All images copyright Albuquerque.
Cobb Hecht
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1 December 2017

What Do You Get When You Cross an Anthropologist and a Zoologist?


Please welcome today's guest contributor, Molly Crossman, MS, MPhil, (Twitter) for a brief introduction to the science of Anthrozoology. After reading this post, you'll hopefully add Becoming an Anthrozoologist to your reading list! This new blog is put out by the student committee of the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ website, FB, Twitter), and they're seeking contributions (details below).


Naruto’s Selfie. Credit: David Slater, Wikimedia Commons  
If you like animals* (and I’m guessing you do if you’re reading this), you probably know the story of Balto, the heroic sled dog who saved an Alaskan city from a diphtheria epidemic. Or maybe you remember Clever Hans, the horse who could apparently do arithmetic, but was really just reading unconscious nonverbal cues from the people around him (and taught us all a lot about expectancy effects as a result). More recently, you may have heard about Cecil the lion, who galvanized public interest in wildlife welfare after being shot and killed by big game hunters. The list of infamous animals goes on, from Naruto, the monkey who took one of the most famous selfies of all time, to Duke, the dog who was elected mayor of a Minnesota town three times in a row.  

These stories about animals get widespread attention, capture our hearts, and often lead to changes not only in our attitudes towards animals, but in how we treat and protect them. But these stories aren’t really just about animals. These are stories about human interactions with animals. These stories are about the roles that animals play in our lives, and the roles that we play in theirs’. And there is an entire field of study devoted to understanding these kinds of interactions between people and animals. 

Anthrozoology is the multidisciplinary study of interactions between people and animals. Anthrozoologists come from a wide range of disciplines including ethology, biology, education, environmental science, history, literature, neuroscience, nursing, occupational therapy, psychology, sociology, and veterinary medicine (to name just a few examples). What anthrozoologists all have in common is that they apply their diverse expertise to ask and answer questions about human-animal relationships.


Anthrozoologists are the folks who brought us the revelation that dogs are more important than cats when it comes to online dating, showed that dogs facilitate social interactions for individuals with physical disabilities, revealed serious ethical issues with dolphin-assisted therapy, demonstrated why people think happier chickens lay tastier eggs, helped us understand who owns pets (and who doesn’t), and explained why people are compelled to (illegally) keep primates as pets. In other words, anthrozoologists do some really cool science.  

So, now that I’ve (hopefully) piqued your interest, where should you go to keep up with the latest in anthrozoology? I’m so glad you asked! 

Becoming an Anthrozoologist is the new blog from the student committee of the International Society for Anthrozoology. We started the blog as a way to share information on human-animal science and to help students in the field promote their work. 

Our first post came out in October, and I think it will be of interest to DYBID readers. The post was written by Lynna Feng, of the Anthrozoology Research Group at La Trobe University. In it, Lynna discusses a topic that is as personal, controversial, and polarizing as parenting techniques, and that’s dog training methods. 



Wikimedia Commons 
You are probably already familiar with the ongoing debate around positive, reward-based training methods versus dominance-based methods (if you aren’t familiar with the debate, Dr. Sophia Yin, an advocate for positive training techniques, has a helpful description on her website). But, did you know that there’s controversy even among those who agree about the importance of using positive approaches?

In her post, Lynna addresses the debate surrounding clicker training. She discusses a recent study, in which she and her supervisors evaluated what clicker training is, and why it’s controversial. Lynna gets into why people use clicker training, and what trainers’ think are best practices. For details about what she found, be sure to read the post! 

We plan to publish the blog quarterly, so look for the next edition in January and be sure to follow the ISAZ Student Blog. If you are not already a member of ISAZ, we also hope you will consider joining. Check out the ISAZ website for more information on becoming a member, and be sure to visit the 2018 conference website for information on the upcoming conference in Sydney, Australia. The deadline for conference submissions is January 18, 2018. 

P.S., If you’re a student member of ISAZ, we hope you will consider submitting something to the blog! 

* Humans are, of course, a type of animal. However, for the sake of clarity and consistency with linguistic norms, I use the term “animal” here to refer to specifically to nonhuman animals. 


Grad Student & Co-Director of Innovative Interactions Lab 
Department of Psychology, Yale University 
Email: molly.crossman@yale.edu
Twitter: @mollycrossman

DYBID here! Did you know that Molly first contributed to DYBID with a post about her research: "Can Therapy Dogs Help Students Handle Stress?" Thanks very much for joining us again, Molly!

Cobb Hecht
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