HomeScience and ResearchScientific ResearchCulture and experience helped people recognize dog's emotions

Culture and experience helped people recognize dog’s emotions

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A team of scientists from Europe have found that the emotions of dogs are better recognized by adults, not children, as well as representatives of European culture, rather than Islamic. To do this, they showed photos of dogs, people and chimpanzees to different people and asked them to evaluate the possible emotions depicted on them. Adult Europeans have done the best job, regardless of whether they have a dog. Recognition of canine emotions by humans, therefore, depends on individual experience and is determined by the culture in which a person grew up.

Despite the fact that complex emotions are considered the prerogative of a person, some species of animals can also show them and use them in communication with relatives – of course, in a little more simplistic. At the same time, both human emotions and animal emotions have similar underlying physiological mechanisms: for example, at the sight of danger in the brain is activated the amygdala, which is responsible for the formation and processing of negative emotions, in this case fear.

Related physiology often means that external manifestations of emotions also have to be similar: for many animals, for example, in response to fear is characterized by the reaction of “hit or run.” In fact, this means that manifestations of individual emotions can actually be interspecies, and representatives of different species can recognize and respond to each other’s emotions a friend, especially if they spent a long time developing together.

An example of effective interspecies recognition of emotions can be a dog and a person. At the same time, little is known about how well they do it and on what it depends. Scientists led by Federica Amici of the Max Planck Society’s Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology decided to study this issue in more detail: they studied how a person can recognize the effectiveness of recognizing canine emotions whether a person grew up with a dog, whether he lives with it in adulthood, and how it is related to the attitude to dogs in culture, to that man belongs to.

The researchers conducted an experiment involving 89 adults and 77 children aged five to six: among the participants were both dog owners and those who never lived with dogs. Participants also belonged to different cultures: non-Muslim Europeans, Muslims living in Europe for at least three years and Muslims living in Morocco were included in the sample. Representatives of Islamic culture were chosen because dogs in it are often considered “dirty” animals that can not live in the family.

Participants were shown pictures of 20 different people, 20 chimpanzees and 20 dogs expressing five different emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear and neutral expression) and asked to name these emotions. The dogs in the photos were similar-looking rocks (with standing ears and short hair: for example, German Shepherd and Husky) to the features of the breed (such as large eyes and lowered corners of the mouth) did not affect the response of the participants. People in the photos were asked to portray the appropriate emotions, and chimpanzees and dogs were filmed in appropriate contexts: for example, when animals were near a person or a relative with whom they like to play. Photos of chimpanzees were taken in order to see whether the recognition of emotions by people depends on a particular animal.

Scientists have found that adults can effectively recognize the emotions of people and dogs, but poorly cope with emotions on the faces of chimpanzees. At the same time, not all dog emotions were able to recognize the participants: they were better given only anger, joy and sadness. But the children were able to recognize only the happy face of the dog, and all other emotions recognized with a probability of a lower or slightly higher accidental hit (20%).

Recognition of emotions (anger, fear, joy, neutral and sad) in chimpanzees (white), dogs (gray) and humans (dark gray) by adults
Scientific Reports, 2019
Recognition of emotions (anger, fear, joy, neutral and sad) in chimpanzees (white), dogs (gray) and humans (dark gray) by children
Scientific Reports, 2019

As for culture, representatives of Islamic culture were not able to recognize the emotions of dogs, and non-Muslim participants coped with the task equally well – regardless of whether they live with the dog or not.

The researchers of the work came to the conclusion that success in the recognition of canine emotions depends on two factors: experience and culture. In favor of the former speaks the fact that children – regardless of whether they have a pet in the house – in the recognition of emotions were limited only by joy, which, apparently, means that with a full range of canine emotions they are not yet familiar. The cultural aspect has a greater impact: adults who are related to a culture in which communication with dogs is not accepted, recognize their emotions very poorly.

The study, of course, has some limitations: for example, photos with dogs expressing different emotions were chosen by scientists, the assessment of which could be subjective (however, the photos were taken at the moments corresponding to emotions). Nevertheless, the authors point out that they were able to partially confirm the hypothesis of “domestication” (that is, not only the taming of dogs by humans but also the influence of the dogs themselves on people’s emotional cognition).

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