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Dog Whisperer? Empathic People Can Read Dogs’ Expressions

Update Date: Feb 08, 2017 10:10 AM EST

A recent study conducted by researchers from University of Helsinki and Aalto University investigated how human beings interpret the facial expressions of non-human species specifically that of a dog's facial expressions. They found that empathic people can read dogs' expressions quicker and more intensely.

Facial expressions play an important role in communicating with other people. People can get a feel for the mood, emotions, attitudes, and even aims of a person just by their facial expressions. And it is not just human facial expressions, some people can read the facial expressions of non-human species like dogs.

According to the researchers, among non-human species, dogs have as many muscles as humans that produce different kinds of facial expressions in accordance with the situation they are in. In fact, dogs, just like humans can read the expressions displayed by other dogs and human beings.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, aims to understand how human beings detect and rate the different facial expressions (positive, neutral, negative) of other human beings and dogs. In addition, the study also aims to understand whether psychological factors can affect how the study participants perceive the different facial expressions.

A total of 34 healthy volunteers participated in the study. They asked to evaluate and rate a total of 80 images. Out of the 80 images presented to the participants, 30 images showed different dog faces, another 30 images showed different human faces. Additional control images were also shown to the participants of the study.

The study found people can detect and rate the different facial expressions of dogs the same with human beings. It also found that pleasant human faces rated higher than pleasant dog faces when it comes to expressions of happiness. The same can be said with the threatening human faces rating higher than threatening dog faces when it comes to expressions of anger or aggressiveness.

The researchers also confirmed that psychological factors affect how people rate the facial expressions of both dogs and humans. In particular, the study found that empathic people have faster response time when it comes to detecting facial expressions on both human and dog faces.

However, even if evaluations of facial expressions are influenced by psychological factors, the accuracy of the emotion being detected especially on dog faces is harder to confirm and beyond the scope of the study.

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