Dog owners know for a while that their dog can sense what is happening in their life. Very often a dog comes to sit in your lap when they sense you are not happy. Or they turn on the side when they know you are angry at them.
And as it turns out, they can understand exactly what is written all over your face. New research conducted by Springer, shows that dogs use their brain to process negative and positive emotions cued by human facial expressions.
One example the study gives is when the dog turns its head to the left. He or she is picking up that someone is angry, fearful, or happy. In that regard, when there is a look of surprise on a person’s face, the dog tends to turn the head to the right. When someone is having a bad day, the heart rate of their dog goes up.
This is just the latest study that shows how connected our dogs are with us. Dogs and people live in close contact, and that has allowed dogs to develop specific skills.
These skills enable our dogs to interact and communicate effectively with people. They use different parts of their brain to process human emotion.
Previous studies have shown canine brain can pick up emotional cues, but this one focuses solely on the face. Previous studies showed dogs pick up cues contained in the voice, posture, and body odour.
During the study, the authors observed what happened when they present photographs of 26 dogs. They presented photographs of the same two adults’ faces, a man and a woman.
Scientists placed the photos strategically to the sides of the animals’ line of sight. This way, the photos showed a human face expressing one of the six basic emotions, which are happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust, or of course, being neutral.
When shown photographs with emotions such as anger, fear, and happiness, dogs showed greater response. Their cardiac activity also went up.
Dogs took longer to resume feeding after seeing these images. Scientists say that their increased heart rate is an indication of higher levels of stress in canines.
When faced with a human face expressing anger, fear, or happiness, dogs turned their heads to the left. The reverse happened when the emotion was a surprise.
According to the study, this is because dogs view surprise as a non-threatening and relaxed emotion and expression. The authors of the study say that arousing and negative emotions are processed by the right hemisphere of dogs brain, while positive emotions are processed by the left hemisphere.
The study is in line with previous research, which showed that the right side of the brain plays a more important role in regulating “the sympathetic outflow to the heart.”