Have you ever wondered what our canine friends think, or rather, feel? Being capable to recognise dogs’ emotions would surely be a useful ability, whether you are an owner concerned with you pet’s well-being or have an interest in avoiding being bitten by dogs in general. Do you believe to possess such an ability?
Researchers in the Unites States (Bloom & Friedman, 2013) found that humans can, in fact, classify rather accurately “the emotions conveyed by photographs of facial expressions of a dog”.
Even people with little to no experience with dogs could do that. The fact that learning was found to influence results only a little suggests that we might have somewhat of an inherent ability to recognise emotions in dogs. It is indeed possible that, during the domestication process, humans selected dogs whose affective states were more easily recognisable.
Bloom and Friedman partly drew from psychology and the affective sciences to develop their experiment, namely the work of the famous Paul Ekman (on whom the TV show ‘Lie to Me’ was based) and his colleagues. They created seven “behaviorally defined” scenarios to induce seven emotional states in the participating dog – happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, anger, fear, and neutral, which served as a control condition for comparisons.
Inspired by their methods, I attempted to replicate two of those conditions. Below are the photographs thus obtained, accompanied by emotionality rating scales for each of the six basic emotions.
What I want YOU to do (yes, you, the person reading this post right now) is to rate the photographs. Each of them may contain one emotion or mixed emotions. Report what emotions, if any, you perceive as present, and to what degree. There is no right or wrong answer. You should choose only one option out of the five available for each emotion.
I am very curious to see how you guys interpret the facial expressions of my dog Charlie! In a future post, I will make sure to reveal the scenarios I used as well as the emotion I hoped to thus induce.