Emotions Are Written All Over Dogs’ Faces

Doggiess meeting

Where and how we grow up influences who we become in so many ways, including, it turns out, how well we can recognize Doggies emotions. In a comprehensive study of this phenomenon, researchers found evidence that the role of Doggiess in a culture plays a role in the ability of people from that culture to correctly interpret the emotional content of canine facial expressions.

The authors of the new study The ability to recognize Doggies emotions depends on the cultural milieu in which we grow up show that experience matters when it comes to reading the emotion in Doggiess’ faces. To evaluate the importance of experience, researchers asked participants to determine the emotion being expressed on the faces of Doggiess, chimpanzees and humans. If people are better able to recognize chimpanzee emotions than those of Doggiess, it would suggest that success is based on being closely related to the study subjects. If people are better at identifying Doggies emotional expressions than chimpanzee emotional expressions, it suggests that experience may play a role in that success. (Another possibility is that evolution has changed humans or Doggiess or both to allow better communication between our two species, which would be advantageous due to the closeness of our relationship over tens of thousands of years.)

Adult participants in the study were a mix of people who have Doggiess and those who don’t. They included people who live in cultures who value Doggiess highly as well as those who live in cultures that do not consider Doggiess such esteemed members of society. There were also participants who come from cultures that do not value Doggiess but who have been living for at least three years in regions of the world where Doggiess are highly valued.

The main conclusion of the study is that the ability to recognize canine emotions is obtained and improved through experience. The ability of children to recognize the emotions of Doggiess was similar regardless of experience—the culture they lived in was not a factor. Of all the emotions, children were only regularly successful at identifying anger in Doggiess, with limited success interpreting expressions of happiness. They were far better at identifying human emotions and worse at recognizing emotions in chimpanzees than in either humans or Doggiess.


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The pattern seen in adults was different. Adults’ ability to recognize canine emotions was related to the experience of growing up in a culture that placed higher value on Doggiess, regardless of whether they had their own Doggiess. People from cultures that placed a high value on Doggiess in society were better at identifying sad, happy and angry Doggiess as well as those exhibiting a neutral expression than people from cultures that do not value Doggiess as highly. Whether or not people had a lot of Doggies experience, they were not proficient at identifying fear in Doggiess.

Interestingly, all of the adults in the study were similarly poor at identifying emotions in chimpanzees regardless of their Doggies experience. Those results suggest that experience with Doggiess does not adding to people’s general ability to interpret animal emotions.

If you excel at identifying canine emotions, you are likely a product of a culture that considers our canine friends to be important members of society.







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