Saturday, June 9, 2012
Dogs Show Empathy When People Cry
Dr. Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer, both of the Department of Psychology at the University of London, developed a procedure to examine whether domestic dogs could identify and respond to emotional states in humans.
Eighteen pet dogs – a range of ages and breeds – were exposed to four separate 20-second experimental conditions in which either the dog's owner or an unfamiliar person pretended to cry, hummed in an odd manner, or carried out a casual conversation.
The study, published in the journal Animal Cognition, found a majority of dogs in the study responded to the crying person in a submissive manner consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering. Of the 15 dogs that approached a crying owner or stranger, 13 did so with submissive body language, such as tucked tails and bowed heads.
"If the dogs' approaches during the crying condition were motivated by self-oriented comfort-seeking, they would be more likely to approach their usual source of comfort, their owner, rather than the stranger," Mayer said in a statement. "No such preference was found. The dogs approached whoever was crying regardless of their identity. Thus they were responding to the person's emotion, not their own needs, which is suggestive of empathic-like comfort-offering behavior."
Still, the researchers can't prove conclusively what the dogs were thinking, and it's possible that dogs learn to approach crying people because their owners give them affection when they do.
Source: UPI.com and HuffingtonPost.com