Dogs Mirror Other Dogs’ Emotions, Study Says

Researchers in Italy believe that dogs may be exhibiting a basic form of empathy.


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When someone we know is smiling, we smile back. We laugh when they laugh. When they’re sad, we reflect that on our faces and we possibly even cry with that person. In a recent study conducted by Italian scientists from the National History Museum at the University of Pisa, it was reported that dogs do the same when it comes to other dogs.

The research team, led by Elisabetta Palagi, believes that the dogs may be showing empathy in its most basic form, which allows them to pick up on their canine friends’ emotions.

“We demonstrated that rapid mimicry is present in dogs and it is an involuntary, automatic and split-second mirroring of other dogs,” Palagi told BBC News. “A dog while playing with another dog can read their motivation and the emotional state of the other dog by mimicking the same expression and body movement of the other dog. This phenomenon is present also in humans and in other primate species.”

To conduct the study, Palagi, along with two other scientists, filmed dogs playing in park in Palermo, Italy, BBC News reports; 50 hours of video was taken. The dogs’ interactions were analyzed and it was found that “dogs were able to mimic the facial expressions and movements of other dogs in a split-second,” according to BBC News. The researchers say that the rapid mimicry expressed in the dogs is a natural occurrence and not one they learned.

The University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Science’s Dr. John Bradshaw told BBC News that more research is required to actually determine if the dogs are experiencing empathy and understand the emotions of other dogs.

“Domestic dogs are exquisite readers of body-language, both that of other dogs, and, uniquely, our own – which is why they’re so easy to train. They also love to play, so quickly learn that imitating the actions of their play-partner means that the game goes on for longer,” Bradshaw told BBC News. “But science has yet to show that dogs have any understanding of other dogs’ thought-processes, or emotions.”

The researchers who conducted this study plan on furthering their research, this time with wolves.

The study was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal; click here to read it in full.


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