Dogs Can Tell a Human’s Mood by Looking at Their Expressions

The experimental set-up used to test whether dogs can discriminate emotional expressions of human faces. (PHOTO CREDIT: Anjuli Barber, Messerli Research Institute)
The experimental set-up used to test whether dogs can discriminate emotional expressions of human faces. (PHOTO CREDIT: Anjuli Barber, Messerli Research Institute)

Feeling happy or mad? A dog can tell your mood just by looking at the expression on your face.

New research in the journal Current Biology represents the first solid evidence that an animal other than humans can discriminate between emotional expressions in another species.

As any dog owner knows, canines are skilled at figuring us out, but previously more attention was paid by scientists to how dogs read us using their other senses, such as smell and hearing, and by observing our behaviors. The latest study strongly suggests that the sight alone of a smile, frown, scowl and more conveys our moods to dogs.

“We think the dogs in our study could have solved the task only by applying their knowledge of emotional expressions in humans to the unfamiliar pictures we presented to them,” co-author Corsin Müller of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna said in a press release.

For the study, Müller and his team took photos of the same person making either a happy or an angry face. The researchers then showed the photos to dogs, which were trained to discriminate between the happy and angry expressions. The researchers then showed only the upper or lower halves of the images to the dogs, which lost none of their ability to discriminate.

The researchers next presented the dogs with photos of different people making their own happy and angry expressions. Müller and his colleagues mixed up the images, sometimes showing the dogs one person or the other, or showing the upper or lower halves of the pictures.

The dogs were able to select the angry or happy face more often than would be expected by random chance in every case.

“Our study demonstrates that dogs can distinguish angry and happy expressions in humans,” lead author Ludwig Huber of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna’s Messerli Research Institute said. He added that “they can tell that these two expressions have different meanings, and they can do this not only for people they know well, but even for faces they have never seen before.”

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Discovery News, Jennifer Viegas

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