Darn right. The simpler emotions, anyway. And what would we make of a study that claimed they didn’t?
Well, anyway, … from ScienceDaily:
Dogs can recognize emotions in humans by combining information from different senses — an ability that has never previously been observed outside of humans, a new study published today reveals.
The researchers advance a claim that the dogs are forming abstract representations of mental states in order to do that. It’s not clear why they would need to.
“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, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “It has been a long-standing debate whether dogs can recognise 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 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.
“Importantly, the dogs in our trials received no prior training or period of familiarisation 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.” More.
It may also have been one reason why dogs ended up living with humans in the first place, in a way that raccoons, skunks, and badgers did not.
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Here’s the abstract:
The perception of emotional expressions allows animals to evaluate the social intentions and motivations of each other. This usually takes place within species; however, in the case of domestic dogs, it might be advantageous to recognize the emotions of humans as well as other dogs. In this sense, the combination of visual and auditory cues to categorize others’ emotions facilitates the information processing and indicates high-level cognitive representations. Using a cross-modal preferential looking paradigm, we presented dogs with either human or dog faces with different emotional valences (happy/playful versus angry/aggressive) paired with a single vocalization from the same individual with either a positive or negative valence or Brownian noise. Dogs looked significantly longer at the face whose expression was congruent to the valence of vocalization, for both conspecifics and heterospecifics, an ability previously known only in humans. 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. Open access – Albuquerque N, Guo K, Wilkinson A, Savalli C, Otta E, Mills D. Dogs recognize dog and human emotions. Biol. Lett., 2016 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0883