Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Take that, cats: new study shows dogs understand human emotions

ThinkstockPhotos-483053740.jpg

In news to shock no dog owners, a new study says our canine friends are capable of recognising different emotions in humans.

While some dog behaviour is learnt (for instance, we think they look guilty when in reality they've just learnt to be fearful of the consequences when they've done something wrong) the researchers say the dogs assessed showed the ability to combine different emotional cues to form abstract mental ideas of emotion.

And what's more, they can do it across species – something no other species, bar us, has been observed doing.

pug dogs understand emotions study

“Hi. Are you OK? Can I help? Let me help.”

Researchers from the UK's University of Lincoln and Brazil's University of São Paulo showed dogs pictures of positive and negative facial expressions (both human and canine) while playing either positive or negative vocalisations.

The team reported dogs spent significantly longer looking at the pictures that matched the sounds – so when hearing an angry sound, they looked at the angry face and vice versa. The tests used voices talking in an unfamiliar language to rule out any recognition from the dogs' previous experience of human language.

The study, published in Biology Letters, stated: “These results demonstrate that dogs can extract and integrate bimodal sensory emotional information, and discriminate between positive and negative emotions from both humans and dogs.”

dog happy understand emotions study

Use this feature as an excuse to browse dog pictures? Never.

Researcher Dr Kun Guo, from the University of Lincoln, said: “Previous studies have indicated that dogs can differentiate between human emotions from cues such as facial expressions, but this is not the same as emotional recognition.

“Our study shows that dogs have the ability to integrate two different sources of sensory information into a coherent perception of emotion in both humans and dogs. To do so requires a system of internal categorisation of emotional states. This cognitive ability has until now only been evidenced in primates and the capacity to do this across species only seen in humans.”

Co-author Professor Daniel Mills added: “It has been a long-standing debate whether dogs can recognise human emotions […] However, there is an important difference between associative behaviour, such as learning to respond appropriately to an angry voice, and recognising a range of very different cues that go together to indicate emotional arousal in another.

"Our findings are the first to show that dogs truly recognise emotions in humans and other dogs.”

Our unique relationship with dogs has developed over thousands of years, and some behaviour is thought to have come about solely because they live with us – barking being one, because humans communicate vocally – so it could be that learning to distinguish different emotions in us was advantageous.

Previous research has also shown that dogs display understanding of human gestures, such as pointing, that even chimps, our closest species relatives, can’t.

So, in the eternal cat or dog debate, cats may well just be misunderstood (bless their cold little hearts) and better at living in the wild (of course they are better at hunting – they're EVIL) but I personally believe it's round two to our canine friends.

Related

rexfeatures_3591647a.jpg

Why is dog ownership so life enhancing?

cat.jpg

Nestlé offers private catering service for you and your feline

homeward bound film-stylist.co.uk.jpg

Cats vs dogs? Scientists have declared a winner

man-kissing-cat.jpg

Man brilliantly recreates his sister's baby posts - with a cat

101 dalmatians engagement shoot.jpg

Couple celebrates engagement with 101 Dalmatians photoshoot

cat pub pic.JPG

A cat pub exists and it's right here in the UK

cutie34.jpg

Meet the latest (inseparable) stars of Instagram

abby and matt humphrey newborn dog shoot-elisha minnette photography-stylist.co.uk.jpg

Couple tired of being asked the big baby question respond brilliantly

Kitten.jpg

The colour of a cat's coat indicates how mean it is

Comments

More

How it feels to be a woman in America right now

"There is a sense of impending doom"

02 Dec 2016

Viewers slam Eamonn Holmes for ‘sexist’ treatment of GBBO's Candice

“He’s making me so uncomfortable – poor Candice”

by Kayleigh Dray
02 Dec 2016

The 12 surprising health benefits of mulled wine

Mulled wine, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways…

by Kayleigh Dray
02 Dec 2016

Pensioner, 89, offered bar job after "stop me dying from boredom" ad

We love a story with a happy ending

by Kayleigh Dray
02 Dec 2016

Bake Off fans, you can now apply to be on Channel 4’s GBBO

On your marks, get set, baaaaake…

by Kayleigh Dray
02 Dec 2016

Inventor of new £5 note brands vegans “stupid” over animal fat debate

"It's stupid. It's absolutely stupid."

by Sarah Biddlecombe
02 Dec 2016

Baby it’s Cold Outside has been given a feminist makeover

The troubling Christmas song has been transformed into an epic consent anthem

by Kayleigh Dray
02 Dec 2016

You’d be more productive if you could work from a café, study finds

Tell your boss.

by Moya Crockett
02 Dec 2016

The best low-alcohol swaps for your favourite beers, wines and spirits

Time for a booze-not-booze?

by Amy Swales
01 Dec 2016

Dorchester issues “disgusting” list of beauty demands to female staff

Women have been told to shave their legs and wear full make-up

by Sarah Biddlecombe
01 Dec 2016