Study Confirms Dogs Are No Strangers To Empathy
Although imitating facial expressions was believed to be characteristic for humans only, it seems that man’s best friend does the same with other members of their species. Moreover, pooches mimic each other’s expressions in a split-second, which basically means they use the same model of empathy as humans in order to get along and make friends with other dogs.
Italian researchers have confirmed this, concluding that our furry friends indeed form strong bonds with other dogs. The findings, which were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, also lead researchers to believe that dogs have a ‘basic built-in form of empathy,’ which implies that they understand how other dogs and even humans feel. The scientists from the Natural History Museum, University of Pisa, say that dogs became empathic sometime during the process of domestication.
What makes this research so fascinating is that social bonding has been perceived as something reserved just for humans and non-human primates like chimps and orangutans until now. We falsely believed that empathy and sharing emotions with others were solely ours when the truth is that dogs feel the same.
Here’s what lead researcher Dr. Elisabetta Palagi told BBC News:
We demonstrated that rapid mimicry is present in dogs and it is an involuntary, automatic and split-second mirroring of other dogs.
What she wants to say is that dogs know what other dogs are feeling as soon as they see their facial expressions and body movements. For instance, when they are playing in the park, dogs can read the emotions of other dogs by imitating the same facial expressions and body movements of other canines. Though this is the most basic form of empathy, it’s still amazing to know that pooches have the ability to empathize with their furry brothers and sisters!
So, how did they come to this conclusion? Well, the team of researchers, which worked with the Unit of Cognitive Primatology and Primate Center in Rome, filmed pups playing in a park in Palermo, Italy. They paid special attention to the way the dogs were playing and how they ‘showed’ other dogs they were in the mood for playtime, including crouching on their front legs and relaxing their mouth to reveal teeth. And that’s basically how they came to the conclusion that mimicking in dogs is an automatic and involuntary response, or in other words, no one taught them how to do it.
As far as dogs and humans are concerned – though we know that pooches respond to human emotions – more research needs to be done in order to confirm whether they really understand how we think and feel. The Italian researchers plan to do just that by studying wolves, the ancestors of our beloved companions.