Domestic dogs display empathic response to distress in humans

June 7, 2012, Goldsmiths, University of London

( -- 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 with infants suggests language not necessary for reasoning ability

March 16, 2018
A team of researchers from Spain, Hungary and Poland has found via a study with infants that language may not be a necessity for the ability to reason. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes ...

Hep C compounds alcoholism's effect on brain volume

March 16, 2018
(HealthDay)—Alcohol dependence has deleterious effects on frontal cortical volumes that are compounded by hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and drug dependence, according to a study published online March 14 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Older adults' difficulties with focusing can be used to help put a face to a name

March 16, 2018
Everyone has experienced the awkward situation of meeting someone and then forgetting their name shortly after. Among older adults, this happens more often than not.

Study casts doubt on ketamine nasal sprays for depression

March 16, 2018
Researchers from the Black Dog Institute and UNSW Sydney have questioned the efficacy and safety of intranasal ketamine for depression, with their pilot trial stopped early due to poor side effects in patients.

A little anger in negotiation pays

March 16, 2018
During negotiations, high-intensity anger elicits smaller concessions than moderate-intensity anger, according to a new study by management and business experts at Rice University and Northwestern University.

Research reveals brain mechanism involved in language learning

March 15, 2018
Learning a new language may be more of a science than an art, a University of Sussex study finds.


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.