Domestic dogs display empathic response to distress in humans

June 7, 2012, Goldsmiths, University of London

(Phys.org) -- Research from Goldsmiths, University of London suggests domestic dogs express empathic behaviour when confronted with humans in distress.

Dr Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer, both from the Department of Psychology, developed an innovative procedure to examine if could identify and respond to states in humans.

Eighteen , spanning a range of ages and breeds, were exposed to four separate 20-second experimental conditions in which either the dog's owner or an unfamiliar person pretended to cry, hummed in an odd manner, or carried out a casual conversation.

The dogs demonstrated behaviours consistent with an expression of empathic concern. Significantly more dogs looked at, approached and touched the humans as they were crying as opposed to humming, and no dogs responded during talking. The majority of dogs in the study responded to the crying person in a submissive manner consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering.

"The humming was designed to be a relatively novel behaviour, which might be likely to pique the dogs' curiosity. The fact that the dogs differentiated between crying and humming indicates that their response to crying was not purely driven by ," explained Dr Custance. "Rather, the crying carried greater emotional meaning for the dogs and provoked a stronger overall response than either humming or talking."

The study also found that the dogs responded to the person who was crying regardless of whether it was their owner or the unfamiliar person: "If the dogs' approaches during the crying condition were motivated by self-oriented comfort-seeking, they would be more likely to approach their usual source of comfort, their owner, rather than the ," said Jennifer. "No such preference was found. The approached whoever was crying regardless of their identity. Thus they were responding to the person's emotion, not their own needs, which is suggestive of empathic-like comfort-offering behaviour."

Explore further: Dogs read our intent too: study

More information: The full paper has been published by SpringerLink and can be viewed here. The paper is also available at Goldsmiths Research Online here.

Related Stories

Dogs read our intent too: study

January 5, 2012
Dogs pick up not only on the words we say but also on our intent to communicate with them, according to a report published online in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on January 5.

Recommended for you

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.