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Dogs 'show empathic behaviour when humans are in distress'

Wednesday, 13th June 2012

Dogs show empathic behaviour when presented with humans in distress, new research has revealed.

Dr Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer, from the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths University, found that dogs could identify and respond to emotional states of humans.

The study looked at 18 dogs, all ranging in age and breed. They were exposed to four separate experimental conditions where the owner or an unfamiliar person pretended to cry, hummed in an odd way or had a casual conversation.

Significantly more dogs looked at, approached and touched humans when they were crying compared to when they hummed or chatted.

The majority of the dogs behaved in a submissive way consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering when the person was crying.

Ms Mayer said: "The dogs 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."

Dr Custance added: "The crying carried greater emotional meaning for the dogs and provoked a stronger overall response than either humming or talking."