Walden University found that most people are able to tell when a dog is happy, angry, sad, surprised, or scared simply by looking at a picture of the animal’s face.
To get the pictures, researchers worked with a Belgian Shepherd named Mal. They played with the dog, praising him, to get the happy pictures. To get the sad pictures, they reprimanded him. A jack-in-the-box was used to get the surprised photos, and they showed Mal nail clippers to get a scared reaction.
Happiness was the easiest emotion for participants to identify, with 88 percent answering correctly.
Anger was recognized by 70 percent. Fear and sadness were more difficult, with about half of the study group identifying these emotions. Surprise was only judged correctly by about 20 percent of the participants.
Surprisingly, those people with the least exposure to dogs over their lifetimes were the best at recognizing the dog’s emotions. The researchers theorize that people who have dogs may interpret some of their own pet’s emotions as playful behavior, trying to convince themselves that their dog is happy and not aggressive.
Researchers also believe that sensing a dog’s emotion is an innate natural skill rather than a learned one. They hope to be able to better understand these animals’ communication skills and to expand this knowledge into understanding how to communicate and empathize with other mammals.
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