Study: Empathetic People Are Better Able To Read Dog Expressions
A new study from the University of Helsinki and Aalto University looked at how empathy, among other psychological factors, affect how people assess facial images of both humans and dogs. They found that human empathy, which is the ability to share someone’s feelings or experiences, affects how one interprets the facial expressions of dogs.
Previous studies have found that people who have higher emotional empathy were able to evaluate other people’s expressions more accurately and quickly, and with greater intensity than those without, and now this work shows that reigns true for dogs as well. Researcher Miiamaaria Kujala says that those with higher levels of empathy had greater ability to assess dog’s facial expressions compared to other people – even those who had more experience working with dogs.
Without question, empathy allows quicker and more intense assessment of a dog’s expressions, but Kujala also feels that high empaths may possibly over-interpret expressions of dogs, and the accuracy of their assessments can’t be fully reliable.
The research also looked at the difference between humans and dogs to be able to assess threatening expressions more easily. Prior research done by The Animal Mind group had shown that dogs are strong in recognizing threatening expressions in both humans and other dogs, while humans were strong in recognition of threatening dog expressions. Humans were also able to assess happy faces more intensely in humans than in dogs. This could be because we tend to gravitate more naturally and amiably to the faces of our own species.
And, while the research is promising for those exploring the significance and implications that come with knowing how to read facial expressions of dogs, researchers caution that there’s much to still learn. Even trained experts have some difficulty reading a dog’s ‘happy’ expression–they tend to read them happier than others do.
Do you feel like you can read your dog’s mind based on his or her facial expression? If you find you’re good at it, you may be empathetic than most people!
More by Lori Ennis