Study Finds Dogs Can Actually Read Human Emotions & Show Empathy


We’ve all heard it before: Dogs are man’s best friend. They are extremely loyal, loving, and sensitive, always seeming to know when you need some cheering up. Well, a new study shows that they do in fact know when you are feeling down, or happy, or any other emotion, because they have the ability to read human emotion. They do this through interpreting various stimuli, such as visual and auditory cues, and they are the only creatures aside from humans that have been shown to have this ability.

A study was conducted by a team of animal behaviour experts and psychologists from the universities of Lincoln and Sao Paulo. Dogs were shown abstract mental depictions of positive and negative emotional states. 17 domestic dogs were involved in the study and they were shown pairs of pictures, either of a happy or an angry person, or a dog looking playful or aggressive. The dogs were then played sounds of playful or aggressive barking or a person saying “come here” in Portuguese in either a cheerful or angry tone.

The Results?

The dogs tended to look at the picture that matched the tone of voice and picked out the proper human expression more often than not. They were very good at recognizing the tone of the other dogs’ bark as well.

Last year, researchers in Vienna, Austria also found that dogs could tell whether a person was happy or angry just by looking at their face.

One of the researchers from the University of Lincoln, Dr. Kun Guo, 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 categorization 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 of the study, Professor Daniel Mills, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, remarked:

It has been a long-standing debate whether dogs can recognize human emotions. Many dog owners report anecdotally that their pets seem highly sensitive to the moods of human family members. However, there is an important difference between associative behavior, such as learning to respond appropriately to an angry voice, and recognizing 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 recognize emotions in humans and other dogs. Importantly, the dogs in our trials received no prior training or period of familiarization with the subjects in the images or audio. This suggests that dogs’ ability to combine emotional cues may be intrinsic. As a highly social species, such a tool would have been advantageous and the detection of emotion in humans may even have been selected for over generations of domestication by us.

It was found that dogs are also able to imitate each other’s expressions, which shows that they have the capacity for empathy as well.

How adorable is that? Your dog can very well understand how you are feeling and that may be exactly why they always seem to be right there, by your side, when you need them the most.

Much Love