Dogs May Recognize Human Emotion by Listening and Watching

First Posted: Jan 13, 2016 08:02 AM EST

Dogs may actually be able to recognize human emotions. Scientists have found that man's best friend can recognize emotions by combining information from different senses.

In this latest study, the researchers presented 17 domestic dogs with pairings of images and sounds conveying different combinations of positive and negative emotional expressions in both humans and dogs. These distinct sources of sensory input, which included photos of facial expressions and audio clips of vocalizations from unfamiliar subjects, were played simultaneously to the animals without any prior training.

The dogs spent significantly longer looking at the facial expressions which matched the emotional state of the vocalization 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.

"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 Kun Guo, one of the researchers, in a news release. "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 categorization 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 findings reveal that it's not only humans that can determine what kind of emotional state another creature is feeling. Instead, dogs also have that ability, which indicates it's a highly social species.

The findings are published in the journal Biology Letters.

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