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Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to distress in humans: An exploratory study


Abstract and Figures

Empathy covers a range of phenomena from cognitive empathy involving metarepresentation to emotional contagion stemming from automatically triggered reflexes. An experimental protocol first used with human infants was adapted to investigate empathy in domestic dogs. Dogs oriented toward their owner or a stranger more often when the person was pretending to cry than when they were talking or humming. Observers, unaware of experimental hypotheses and the condition under which dogs were responding, more often categorized dogs' approaches as submissive as opposed to alert, playful or calm during the crying condition. When the stranger pretended to cry, rather than approaching their usual source of comfort, their owner, dogs sniffed, nuzzled and licked the stranger instead. The dogs' pattern of response was behaviorally consistent with an expression of empathic concern, but is most parsimoniously interpreted as emotional contagion coupled with a previous learning history in which they have been rewarded for approaching distressed human companions.
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Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris)
to distress in humans: an exploratory study
Deborah Custance Jennifer Mayer
Received: 13 September 2011 / Revised: 23 April 2012 / Accepted: 23 April 2012
Springer-Verlag 2012
Abstract Empathy covers a range of phenomena from
cognitive empathy involving metarepresentation to emo-
tional contagion stemming from automatically triggered
reflexes. An experimental protocol first used with human
infants was adapted to investigate empathy in domestic
dogs. Dogs oriented toward their owner or a stranger more
often when the person was pretending to cry than when
they were talking or humming. Observers, unaware of
experimental hypotheses and the condition under which
dogs were responding, more often categorized dogs’
approaches as submissive as opposed to alert, playful or
calm during the crying condition. When the stranger pre-
tended to cry, rather than approaching their usual source of
comfort, their owner, dogs sniffed, nuzzled and licked the
stranger instead. The dogs’ pattern of response was
behaviorally consistent with an expression of empathic
concern, but is most parsimoniously interpreted as emo-
tional contagion coupled with a previous learning history in
which they have been rewarded for approaching distressed
human companions.
Keywords Empathy Emotional contagion Domestic
Dogs and humans have shared a symbiotic bond for at least
15,000 years (Miklo
´si 2008; Savolainen et al. 2002). Over
that period, dogs have been subject to intense selective
breeding that has not only produced breeds with markedly
different body shapes and sizes but also differing behav-
ioral dispositions (Scott and Fuller 1974). Hare et al.
(2002) have argued that the process of domestication has
also conveyed advanced socio-cognitive abilities to dogs
(e.g., Hare and Tomasello 2006; Topa
´l et al. 2006;
Kaminski et al. 2009). In addition, it has been suggested
that domestication has led to a strong predisposition in
dogs to form close affectional bonds with humans (Topa
et al. 1998; Prato-Previde et al. 2003; Palmer and Custance
2008). The genetic basis of this process has been well
established in silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes), which over the
course of 30 years of selective breeding not only became
increasingly tame and friendly toward humans, but also
developed a dog-like appearance with floppy ears, spotty
coats, and curly tails (Belyaev et al. 1981; Trut et al. 2002).
One aspect of the dog–human affectional bond, often
sited by pet-owners, is the fact that dogs seem empathically
well-tuned to human emotions (Vitulli 2006). They appear
to celebrate our joy and commiserate our sorrow. Although
owners readily report empathic-like responding in their
pets, systematic empirical confirmation remains elusive
(Silva and de Sousa 2011). Although it has been found that
dogs will contagiously yawn in response to a human
yawning (Joly-Mascheroni et al. 2008), such behavior
seems very different from empathically responding to
human emotional displays such as distress. Zahn-Waxler
et al. (1984) in a study on empathy in human infants noted
that some household dogs appeared to respond empathi-
cally when their owner pretended to cry. However, the
report of this behavior constituted little more than an
anecdotal observation.
Despite over a century of interest, no consensus exists
over a proper definition of empathy. Although its linguistic
roots are in ancient Greek, the word empathy was first
D. Custance (&)J. Mayer
Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College,
8 Lewisham Way, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, UK
Anim Cogn
DOI 10.1007/s10071-012-0510-1
introduced relatively recently into modern usage in the
context of the philosophy of aesthetics. It was originally
used to refer to ‘‘feeling into’’ works of art or nature
(Titchener 1909). However, from the mid-twentieth cen-
tury onwards, empathy became a focus of psychological
research in the context of social communication and pro-
sociality (Silva and de Sousa 2011). Although there seem
to be as many definitions of the term as researchers inter-
ested in it, empathy has broadly been defined as, ‘‘the
naturally occurring subjective experience of similarity
between the feelings expressed by self and others without
loosing (sic.) sight of whose feelings belong to whom’’
(Decety and Jackson 2004, p. 71).
Developmental and comparative psychologists have
identified a number of empathy-related phenomena
involving varying degrees of cognitive complexity (e.g.,
Eisenberg 2009; Preston and de Waal 2002). Batson et al.
(1981) were among the first to distinguish empathy from
personal distress. Both processes are underpinned by
emotional contagion in which perceiving another’s emo-
tional state triggers a similar emotional response in an
observer. Yet, while personal distress is self-oriented,
empathy is other-oriented (Batson 1991). Eisenberg (2009)
defined personal distress as, ‘‘self-focused, aversive emo-
tional reaction to the vicarious experiencing of another’s
emotion that is associated with the egoistic motivation
of making oneself feel better’’ (p. 126). Thus, upon wit-
nessing another infant cry, an observing infant may also
start to cry, but instead of offering aid to the initially dis-
tressed individual the observing infant seeks comfort for
her own vicariously triggered distress.
In contrast to personal distress, while empathizing
individuals still experience a vicarious emotional reaction
to the emotional state displayed by others, they do not
become entirely focused upon their own emotional
response. As such, empathy requires a capacity for self-
other differentiation (Preston and de Waal 2002; de Waal
2008). The empathizer’s response to the other’s emotional
state is primarily focused upon or oriented toward the other
rather than themselves. Hence, a behavioral indicator of
empathy may be comfort-offering or helping behavior in
response to another’s distress.
Some theorists have also discussed another highly cog-
nitively complex category of empathy-related processing,
sometimes labeled sympathy (e.g., Eisenberg 2009)or
cognitive empathy (e.g., Preston and de Waal 2002).
Eisenberg (2009) defined it as, ‘‘an affective response that
frequently stems from empathy, but can derive solely (or
partly) from perspective taking or other cognitive pro-
cessing, including retrieval of information from memory. It
consists of feelings of sorrow or concern for the distressed
or needy other rather than feeling the emotion as the other
person is experiencing or expected to experience it’
(p. 126). Such a highly complex category of empathic
responding would be extremely difficult to establish
empirically without the aid of verbal self-report. Thus, it
seems unlikely that one could provide convincing evidence
of sympathy in non-verbal participants such as very young
human infants or non-human animals.
Although it would be very difficult to establish a
capacity for sympathy in non-human animals, there is
growing evidence that many species are nevertheless sen-
sitive to distress in others. Rats (Church 1959) and mon-
keys (Wechkin et al. 1964) have been found to forgo food
in order to avoid delivering electric shocks to conspecifics.
Mice have shown increased sensitivity to their own pain
when paired with familiar mice experiencing a different
type of pain (Langford et al. 2006). Additionally, there is
evidence of empathic concern in chimpanzees, cats, and
dogs (Zahn-Waxler et al. 1984; Yerkes 1925; Ladygina-
Kohts 1935/2001), yet this is largely anecdotal. There is,
however, systematic observational data on post-conflict
‘consolation’’ in apes (de Waal and van Roosmalen 1979),
rooks (Seed et al. 2007), and domestic dogs (Cools et al.
2008). Such consolatory behavior involves a third party
approaching and often making physical contact with either
the winner or loser of a former altercation. Yet the degree
to which this functions as comfort-offering is not clear,
since there is little evidence of stress alleviation as a result
of such post-conflict affiliation (Koski and Sterck 2007).
As indicated above, most evidence of empathy-related
behavior in non-human animals involves intraspecies
responding. The anecdotal observations of dogs are of
particular interest since they often involve interspecies
(i.e., dog to human) empathic-like behavior. The distress
signals of humans are very different to those of dogs.
Nevertheless, one might expect a predator/scavenger, such
as a dog, to be predisposed to respond to the distress signals
of other species. However, rather than provoking empathic-
like responding, it seems just as likely that distress in an
interspecific would provoke alert or predatory related
behavior in dogs. It is not immediately clear how one might
expect a dog to respond to distress in humans.
There has been some experimental study of empathi-
cally motivated help-seeking in dogs. Macpherson and
Roberts (2006) found that pet dogs failed to seek the help
of a human bystander when their owner feigned a heart
attack or was pinned by a bookcase. The authors concluded
that the ‘‘dogs did not understand the nature of the emer-
gency or the need to obtain help’’ (p. 113). But seeking
help from a bystander is a rather complex type of empathic
responding. We set out to investigate a slightly less com-
plex scenario. How do dogs respond when humans sud-
denly begin to cry for no readily apparent reason?
It has been found that when typically developing human
infants are faced with suddenly crying individuals, they
Anim Cogn
will often hug, pat, make appropriate verbal utterances
(e.g., ‘‘there, there’’, ‘‘it’s okay’’), offer toys, and some-
times recruit assistance (Zahn-Waxler et al. 1979,1984).
The behavior of dogs under similar circumstances is harder
to interpret. Dogs can whine, nuzzle, lick, lay their head in
the person’s lap or fetch toys. Yet, such behavior could be
an expression of contagious distress and egoistic comfort-
seeking rather than empathically motivated comfort-offer-
ing. Alternatively, such behavior could be motivated by
curiosity. Hence, the primary challenge in investigating
possible empathy in dogs is devising an experimental
procedure that can elucidate the distinction between curi-
osity, egoistic attention- or comfort-seeking and expres-
sions of genuine empathic concern.
In an attempt to solve this conundrum, we modified Zahn-
Waxler et al.’s (1984) procedure to include a condition in
which an unfamiliar person also pretended to cry. If the dogs
were principally seeking comfort for themselves, we pre-
dicted that they would avoid the crying stranger and
approach their owner instead. If the dogs’ approach was
principally motivated by curiosity, we predicted that any
relatively uncommon behavior, of a similar intensity to
crying, would elicit approach. Therefore, we included a
condition in which the owner and stranger took turns hum-
ming in a strange staccato manner. We also compared the
dogs’ behavior in response to crying and humming with
periods in which the humans were talking. Talking is a very
common human activity for dogs to witness and thus it
served as a baseline condition with which to compare their
responses to the rather strange or uncommon crying and
humming behavior. Finally, we also evaluated the emotional
tone of the dogs’ approaches during the different conditions
(i.e., crying, humming and talking). If the dogs were exhib-
iting contagiously triggered personal distress or empathy,
one would expect them to behave in a subdued, submissive
manner rather than being playful, neutrally calm or alert.
Eighteen medium-sized domestic dogs (Canis familiaris)
from the North West USA participated in the study. There
were 9 females and 9 males of various breeds (10 mon-
grels, three Labradors, two Golden Retrievers, one Vizsla,
one Belgian Shepherd, and one Beagle) with a mean age of
9 years and 9 months ranging from 8 months to 12 years.
Twelve dogs had been adopted by their current owners
from a canine rescue center. The remaining six were
acquired either from a breeder or from the litter of a per-
sonal acquaintance. All were household pets with no spe-
cialist training beyond basic obedience.
Eighteen owners (one per dog) comprising 14 women
and 4 men ranging from 34 to 72 years of age also par-
ticipated in the study. Length of ownership ranged from
2 months to 12 years. When owners were asked how
responsive their dog had been to emotions in humans
previously, 15 dogs were anecdotally reported to have
responded (11 to sadness, seven to pain, eight to anger, and
nine to celebration).
Testing conditions and materials
In order to ensure that the dogs remained relatively
unstressed during the experiment and were thus more likely
to behave in a natural manner, they were tested in the
living-room of their own home. The owner and stranger
remained seated at least two meters apart throughout the
procedure, while a third person stood discreetly in one
corner of the room and recorded the dog’s behavior on a
Sony Handicam
Each dog was exposed to four separate 20-s-long experi-
mental conditions in which: (1) their owner cried; (2) a
stranger cried; (3) their owner hummed; (4) the stranger
hummed. The order of who performed first (i.e., stranger or
owner) and whether they cried or hummed was counter-
balanced. In addition, each crying or humming condition
was preceded by 2 min during which the owner and
stranger talked.
The same person played the role of stranger throughout
(i.e., the second author, J. Mayer). She was entirely unfa-
miliar to the dogs prior to testing. From the moment of
entering their house, the stranger ignored the dogs: she did
not look directly at them or make any friendly overtures.
By the time testing began, all dogs showed little interest in
the stranger. As a result, when 20 s of the dogs’ behavior
was sampled 1 min into the procedure (during which the
owner and stranger were talking), 15 dogs were passive,
two were walking and one was playing. Thus, the dogs
were not overly fixated upon the stranger nor did they show
any aggressive territoriality.
The owners were given the following instructions con-
cerning their role during each condition: Crying: When you
are asked to cry, please pretend to cry to the best of your
ability for 20 s; you will be told when you can stop. The
only gestures you should make while you are pretending to
cry are either leaning forward or covering your face.
Humming: When you are asked to hum, please loudly hum
the nursery rhyme ‘‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’’ to the best of
your ability for 20 s; you will be told when you can stop.
Please hum at approximately the same volume and perform
the same gestures as you did or will do during the crying
Anim Cogn
condition. The owners were also asked not to refer to their
dog by name, look directly at him or her or initiate physical
contact during testing.
Once the owner had been briefed, the video-camera was
turned on and the testing session began. For the first 2 min
the stranger asked the owner questions from a previously
prepared list about the dog’s biographical details along
with soliciting anecdotal reports regarding the dog’s pre-
vious reactions to various emotional displays in humans.
When 2 min had elapsed, the first bout of crying or hum-
ming was performed. Immediately following this bout, the
owner and stranger returned to talking thereby allowing the
dog’s behavior to normalize. Thus, a total of two bouts of
crying and two of humming were performed, each sepa-
rated by 2 min of talking.
Behavioral analysis
The 20-s humming and crying conditions from the digital
video recordings of the testing sessions were analyzed
using 5-s point and time sampling (Martin and Bateson
2007). Because we also wished to compare the dogs’
responses to humming and crying with that of talking, we
sampled two 20-s phases during which the owner and
stranger talked. The first sample commenced 1 min after
the start of the experiment and the second sample was
taken 30 s after the second crying/humming phase.
Six different behaviors, divided into two categories,
were scored via 5-s point sampling. The category ‘‘person-
oriented’’ included ‘‘look at’’, ‘‘approach’’, and ‘‘contact’
while ‘‘non-person-oriented’’ included ‘‘passive’’, ‘‘walk-
ing’’, and ‘‘solitary play’’ (Table 1). Thus, after every 5-s
interval, the behavior displayed by the dog at that precise
moment was recorded.
Since vocalizing was not a mutually exclusive behavior
(i.e., it could co-occur with any of the other behaviors) and
it was a rare and transient event, it was scored differently
using 5-s time sampling rather than point sampling. Thus,
if the dog made any vocalization during each 5-s interval,
this was scored as one and the type of the vocalization was
The second author (J. Mayer) scored all of the testing
sessions, and a naı
¨ve observer, who was unaware of the
study’s hypotheses, scored a random selection of four ses-
sions (i.e., 4 out of 18 dogs or 22 % of the sample). During
¨ve scoring, a DVD without sound or labels was used so
that the naı
¨ve observer remained as far as possible unaware
of the experimental conditions or hypotheses. Inter-observer
agreement was very good: Cohen’s j=0.83.
In addition to the basic behaviors outlined above, we
also wished to evaluate the emotional tone of the dogs’
approaches to the stranger and owner to see whether they
approached in a different manner when the humans were
crying, humming, or talking. Four emotional states in dogs
were considered: submissive, calm, playful, and alert.
These four relatively mild emotional displays were chosen
because the other more extreme emotional signals descri-
bed in dogs such as fearfulness or aggression were not
evident in any of the subjects. (For reasons of welfare, the
procedure would have been curtailed if any of the dogs had
displayed strong fear or aggression). Three exemplars of
each emotion (two photographs and a line drawing) were
selected from a Googleimage search. An opportunity
sample of 10 experienced dog-owners, who were unaware
of the experimental hypotheses, was asked to identify
which of the four emotional states the dogs in the pictures
were displaying. There was 100 % agreement between the
observers on all but three of the 12 images. These three
pictures were discarded and the remaining images were
used to develop pen drawings of each of the relevant
emotional state postures (Fig. 1).
Three other independent observers, all of whom were
experienced dog-owners and unaware the study’s hypoth-
eses, were shown the four pen drawings along with short
descriptions of each emotional display.
Calm (relaxed or neutral) The dog’s ears are held down
but not laid flat and back (or if it is a breed that holds its ear
up all the time, such as a Doberman pincher or German
Table 1 Behavior scored by point and time sampling
Behavior Definition Grouping
Passive Sitting, standing, or lying down without paying any obvious attention to the physical or social environment NPO
Walking Walking around the room without orienting to either the owner or researcher NPO
Solitary Play Playful behavior not associated with either the owner or the researcher (e.g., chewing a toy) NPO
Look at person Sitting, standing or lying still while looking directly toward either the owner or stranger PO
Contact person Sniffing, licking, pawing, jumping up on or leaning against the owner or stranger PO
Approach Walking toward while clearly visually oriented to the owner or stranger PO
Vocalizing Any vocalization made by the dog (the nature of the vocalization was noted, e.g., whining or barking)
Transition Ambiguous, transitional actions
PO person-oriented, NPO non-person-oriented
Anim Cogn
Shepherd, the ears are not pricked forward). The mouth is
often open and the tongue is out or in view. The tail is held
in a neutral position (not between the legs, but not held up
toward horizontal or higher).
Submissive (mildly worried or concerned) The dog’s
body and head is slightly lowered. They hold their ears flat
and back. Their tail is held low and sometimes slightly
between their legs. They will also sometimes wag their tail
with a rapid side to side motion. They will sometimes
protrude their tongue slightly and raise one leg in a hesitant
placating manner.
Alert The dog’s ears are pricked and forward (some
breeds cannot prick their ears, but if possible they hold
them up slightly). The body is slightly raised and the legs
stiff. The dog stares in a fixed manner and its tail is held up
so that it is horizontal or higher.
Playful The dog moves in an exuberant, excited manner,
the tail is held up (often wagging), and the dog’s face
assumes a happy or excited expression with the mouth
often held slightly open. When requesting play dogs will
sometimes assume a ‘‘bow’’ posture: they lower their
front legs and raise their hind quarters with their tail
held up.
The three observers watched silent footage of all the
dogs’ approaches in the crying and humming conditions
(none of the dogs approached during talking). They were
asked to select which emotional category best fitted the
nature of the dog’s approach. The agreement between
observers was moderate to good: observer A to B Cohen’s
j=0.685, observer A to C Cohen’s j=0.463, and
observer B to C Cohen’s j=0.618. In 18 out of the 29
(67 %) crying and humming bouts in which approaches
occurred, all three observers agreed on the nature of the
dogs’ approaches. In the remaining nine bouts (33 %) at
least two observers agreed on the nature of the approach.
Therefore, the emotional tone of the dogs’ approaches
during each bout of crying or humming was taken to be that
category upon which two or more of the observers agreed.
Table 2presents a summary of the point and time sample
data. According to the time sample data, significantly more
dogs approached during crying (N=15) than humming
(N=6) (McNemar test X
(1, N=18) =7.11,
p=0.008). None of the dogs approached during talking.
Fig. 1 Emotional postures in
dogs. aCalm, bsubmissive,
calert, dplayful
Anim Cogn
Only two dogs vocalized during testing. One dog whined
when its owner pretended to cry, and the other produced a
trilled-whimpering in response to the crying bouts of both
the owner and stranger.
There was a significant main effect for the degree of
person-oriented behaviors (i.e., the combined point sample
scores for look at, approach and contact) performed during
the crying, humming, and talking conditions (repeated
measures ANOVA, F(1.36, 23.03) =51.29, p\0.001,
Fig. 2). Bonferroni corrected post hoc tests showed that
dogs were significantly more person-oriented during crying
compared with humming (p\0.001) or talking
(p\0.001). Despite responding more strongly to crying,
the dogs still differentiated between humming and talking,
since there was a significantly higher rate of person-
oriented behaviors performed during humming versus
talking (p=0.045 one-tailed).
As mentioned earlier, it was hypothesized that if the
dogs were behaving in a manner consistent with empathy,
they would direct more behavior toward the person who
was crying than the silent witness. If, however, they
approached their owner when the stranger was crying, this
might suggest they were comfort-seeking. To test these
hypotheses, a 2 92 repeated measures ANOVA was
conducted on the dependent variable of number of person-
oriented behaviors performed by dogs during the crying
condition. The independent variables were identity of
person performing (owner/stranger) and behavior being
responded to (crying/sitting silently). There was no sig-
nificant main effect of identity of person performing
(F(1,17) =0.04, p=0.843). Thus, dogs did not perform
significantly more person-oriented behavior toward the
owner versus the stranger or vice versa. However, there
was a significant main effect for behavior being responded
to (F(1,17) =79.12, p\0.001). Dogs directed signifi-
cantly more person-oriented behaviors toward the person
crying than the silent companion (p\0.001; Fig. 3). There
was no significant interaction between the identity of the
person performing and the behavior being responded to
(F(1,17) =0.054, p=0.819).
Although the point sample data indicated that the dogs
oriented more to the humans when they were crying versus
humming or talking, this does not automatically mean that
they were responding in a manner consistent with empathy.
If they approached in a playful or alert manner, this would
be inconsistent with an expression of empathic concern.
Thus, we went on to analyze the independent observers’
ratings of the emotional tone of approaches made by the
dogs during crying. (As noted earlier, there were no
approaches during talking and only six dogs approached
during humming, which meant it was not possible to per-
form statistical analyses upon these data).
Table 2 Mean (SD) number of point and time samples in which dogs
responded in each condition
Response Cry Hum Talk
Look PS 3.78 (2.16) 1.39 (2.17) 0.06 (0.24)
Approach PS 0.06 (0.24) 0.11 (0.47) 0 (0)
Approach TS 1.11 (1.32) 0.22 (0.55) 0 (0)
Contact PS 1.61 (1.69) 0 (0) 0.06 (0.26)
Person-oriented PS 5.44 (2.31) 1.5 (2.36) 0.11 (0.47)
Non-person-oriented PS 2.56 (2.31) 6.5 (1.91) 7.89 (0.47)
Standard deviations (SD) are in parentheses after means. PS point
samples, TS time samples. Look, approach, and contact were com-
bined to form person-oriented. Although 5-s point sampling captured
very few approaches, when approach data were collected using 5-s
time sampling and analyzed separately the results followed the same
pattern as person-oriented. Looking and contact point sample data,
when analyzed separately, also followed the same pattern, except that
dogs looked significantly more during humming than talking
Fig. 2 Rate of person-oriented behaviors performed during the
crying, humming, and talking conditions Fig. 3 A dog approaches the ‘‘stranger’’ as she pretends to cry
Anim Cogn
Of the 15 dogs who approached during the crying con-
dition, 13 were judged to have done so in a submissive
manner; one dog was judged as alert, and another dog
approached the crying stranger in a playful manner and his
owner in an alert manner. Since there were four possible
emotional displays (submissive, alert, playful, and calm),
the null hypothesis was that there would be an equal
probability of the dogs displaying any one of them. Thus, a
non-central binomial test with a probability of 0.25 was
applied to the data. It was found that a much higher pro-
portion of the sample of dogs that approached during
crying did so in a submissive manner than one would
expect if the emotional type of approach displayed were
equiprobable (p\0.001).
There are many different ways in which dogs could
respond to an apparently distressed human. They could fail
to respond at all and ignore the crying person; they could
become fearful and avoidant, even approaching another
calm human for reassurance; they could become alert and
even act in a dominant manner toward an apparently
weakened individual; they could become curious or play-
ful; or they could approach and touch the distressed person
in a gentle or submissive manner thereby providing reas-
surance or comfort. The majority of dogs in the present
study behaved in a manner that was consistent with
empathic concern and comfort-offering. The dogs respon-
ded to their owner and the stranger when they were crying
in a markedly differently manner compared with when they
were humming or talking. They oriented toward the person
(i.e., looking at, approaching and touching them) signifi-
cantly more during the crying condition than the humming
or talking conditions. Of the 15 dogs that approached
during the crying condition, the majority of them did so in
a submissive rather than playful, calm, or alert manner.
The fact that the dogs differentiated between crying and
humming indicates that their response to crying was not
purely driven by curiosity. The humming was designed to
be a relatively novel behavior, which might be likely to
pique the dogs’ curiosity. However, it was somewhat
similar to talking and one might suspect that the dogs did
not respond to it because they treated it as equivalent to
talking. Although humming did not provoke approach or
contact, the dogs nevertheless looked at the humming
person significantly more often than they looked during
talking. Thus, they seemed to notice that humming was
different from talking, but they did not become sufficiently
interested or aroused during humming to approach or touch
the person performing the behavior. In addition, the two
dogs who produced mild distress vocalizations during the
procedure only did so during the crying condition. Thus, it
seemed that crying carried greater emotional valence for
the dogs and provoked a stronger overall response than
either humming or talking.
It is possible that the dogs’ response to crying was dri-
ven principally by emotional contagion. The crying could
have triggered personal distress in the dogs so that their
approaches were driven by a desire to gain comfort for
themselves rather than to offer comfort to the human.
However, if the dogs’ approaches during the crying con-
dition were entirely motivated by egoistic comfort-seeking,
one might expect them to be more likely to approach their
usual source of comfort (i.e. their owner) in preference to
the stranger. Yet, no such preference was found. The dogs
approached whoever was crying regardless of their iden-
tity. In addition, when the person who was crying ignored
them (as they were instructed to do), if the dogs were
egoistically motivated, one might expect them to turn to the
other available non-crying person for comfort, particularly
if that person were their owner. However, only two dogs
approached both people during the crying condition (one
approached the crying stranger first and then her owner, the
other approached the calm stranger prior to going over to
his crying owner and then when the stranger was crying
approached the stranger prior to his owner). Thus, the
dogs’ behavior was not strongly consistent with what one
would expect if they were only egoistically comfort-
Even if the dogs’ pattern of response exceeded what one
would expect of personal distress and egotistic comfort-
seeking, it does not automatically follow that they were
empathizing in the sense of making a self-other differen-
tiation. A more parsimonious explanation of their behavior
is that they may have previously received positive rein-
forcement for approaching crying individuals. Any house-
hold dog who approaches a distressed human family
member is likely to be positively reinforced by receiving
affection. Through the process of generalization, any
human who then cries in the presence of that dog is likely
to initiate a conditioned approach response. Since the dog
is nonetheless affected by emotional contagion the
response will still tend to be submissive in its emotional
tone. Thus, the behavioral outcome is a response to human
distress that is consistent with an expression of empathic
concern, but which may not actually involve the requisite
self-other differentiation needed for it to count as true
Similarly, there is no compelling evidence to suggest
that the dogs’ behavior indicated sympathy or cognitive
empathy. Cognitive empathy would require them to exhibit
some understanding of the mental perspective of the crying
humans. Sympathetic humans can produce verbal utter-
ances such as, ‘‘Are you okay?’’ or ‘‘What is the matter?’’
Anim Cogn
which indicate that they are engaging with or asking after
the mental perspective of the crying person. Without the
benefit of such verbal responses, it is difficult to imagine
what behavior a dog could produce under such circum-
stances which could convincingly indicate mental per-
In conclusion, we in no way claim that the present study
provides definitive answers to the question of empathy in
dogs. Nevertheless, we believe it sets out a profitable
direction for further study. There are many more possible
avenues of inquiry. For example, what is the effect of
breed? Nearly, all the dogs in our sample were medium-
sized mongrels or hunting breeds. How would toy breeds
respond? If learning history is important, a developmental
study with puppies might reveal important trends. In
addition, contrasting dogs with different rearing histories,
such as shelter dogs or highly trained working dogs, might
reveal systematic differences. It might be profitable to
study other emotions in contrast to crying. It is possible, as
mentioned earlier, that humming was too similar to talking
to provoke a strong response. On reflection, it might have
been better to have contrasted crying with laughing.
Laughing is a human emotional display that has a similar
auditory intensity to crying, but one might expect it to
provoke a playful rather than submissive approach. The
crying behavior in the present study was devoid of context.
Future studies could provide a context for the emotion
being displayed, such as fear caused by a snake or pain
caused by stubbing one’s toe. The experimental paradigm
we have developed offers a powerful new way to address
many of these questions.
Acknowledgments Many thanks to Gordon Mayer, Debbie Mayer,
Emily Bennett, Emma Collins, Emily Garside, Grace Godfrey, Robyn
Palmer, Laurence Muspratt, and Vincent for assistance with testing.
Grateful thanks to Pamela Heaton, Rory Allen, Kim Bard, Andrew
Bremner, Elisabeth Hill, Andrew Whiten, and Alison Jolly for com-
menting on earlier drafts of this manuscript. We are indebted to our
canine and human participants.
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... T he forms of many animal signals are shaped by their functions, a link arising from production-and reception-related rules that help to maintain reliable signal detection within and across species 1-6 . Form-function links are widespread in vocal signals across taxa, from meerkats to fish 3,7-10 , causing acoustic regularities that allow cross-species intelligibility [11][12][13][14] . This facilitates the ability of some species to eavesdrop on the vocalizations of other species, for example, as in superb fairywrens (Malurus cyaneus), who learn to flee predatory birds in response to alarm calls that they themselves do not produce 15 . ...
... Many of the reported acoustic differences are consistent with properties of vocal signalling in non-human animals, raising the intriguing possibility that the designs of human communication systems are rooted in the basic principles of bioacoustics [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] . For example, in both speech and song, infant-directedness was robustly associated with purer and less harsh vocal timbres and greater formant-frequency dispersion (expanded vowel space). ...
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When interacting with infants, humans often alter their speech and song in ways thought to support communication. Theories of human child-rearing, informed by data on vocal signalling across species, predict that such alterations should appear globally. Here, we show acoustic differences between infant-directed and adult-directed vocalizations across cultures. We collected 1,615 recordings of infant- and adult-directed speech and song produced by 410 people in 21 urban, rural and small-scale societies. Infant-directedness was reliably classified from acoustic features only, with acoustic profiles of infant-directedness differing across language and music but in consistent fashions. We then studied listener sensitivity to these acoustic features. We played the recordings to 51,065 people from 187 countries, recruited via an English-language website, who guessed whether each vocalization was infant-directed. Their intuitions were more accurate than chance, predictable in part by common sets of acoustic features and robust to the effects of linguistic relatedness between vocalizer and listener. These findings inform hypotheses of the psychological functions and evolution of human communication.
... Our results are in agreement with those of other studies which show that the degree of affiliation or familiarity (past experiential between specimens) rather than relatedness determines prosocial behavior (Ben-Ami Bartal et al. 2014;Samuni et al. 2018). This has been observed in many mammals (Warneken and Tomasello 2006;Custance and Mayer 2012;Tan and Hare 2013;Ben-Ami Bartal et al. 2014), and it could explain why parental care is the most common form of altruistic behavior (Rault 2019) and why studies about altruism produce contradictory results (Cronin 2017). Indeed, as in dolphins, even in other animals, mothers and calves have the strongest social bonds among individuals of the species (Grellier et al. 2003;Newberry and Swanson 2008). ...
In this study, we tested two mother-calf pairs of bottlenose dolphins in a helping task. Specifically, we provided dolphins with an enrichment tool based on the rope-pulling task paradigm to obtain a resource. The calves were unable to solve the task and get the resource on their own, and then we evaluated whether their mothers helped them. Moreover, we also evaluated whether the social bond strength among mother and calf, measured with the simple ratio index, may play an important role in determining altruistic behaviors. Our findings show that mothers performed altruistic behaviors toward their calves only when they had a strong social bond with them. Indeed, only a mother had a strong social bond with her calf, and only she acted altruistically. Moreover, as her calf grew, their social bond weakened and the mother stopped performing altruistic behaviors. As a result, our data seem to suggest the strength of social bonds has an important role in determining altruism.
... Both papers indicated that the dog was being at risk from potentially aggressive behaviors from the child, either because the dog was the closest target for the child or because the parent had encouraged the dog to interrupt the display of aggression to calm the child. At times, Hall et al. [127] observed that the dog spontaneously interjected in a meltdown by seeking physical proximity with the child, reflecting its efforts to appease a stressful situation and defuse a perceived conflict [130]. ...
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The prevalence of mental health disorders, driven by current global crises, is notably high. During the past decades, the popularity of dogs assisting humans with a wide spectrum of mental health disorders has significantly increased. Notwithstanding these dogs’ doubtless value, research on their legal status, certification processes, training and management practices, as well as their welfare status, has been scarce. This scoping review highlights that in contrast to other assistance dogs such as guide dogs, there exists no consistent terminology to mark dogs that assist humans with impaired mental health. Legal authorities monitoring the accreditation process, training and tracking of mental health supporting dogs are broadly lacking, with only few exceptions. This review emphasizes the need to address several topics in the promotion of progress in legal and welfare issues related to assistance dogs as well as emotional support dogs for humans with a mental health disorder. The current body of knowledge was assessed in three different areas of focus: (1) the legal dimension including definitions and certification processes; (2) the dimension of performed tasks; and (3) the dog welfare dimension including aspects of the relationship with the handler and risks associated with children recipients. Considering the challenges associated with a mental health diagnosis, collaborations of dog provider organizations and health care professionals would be desirable to continuously assess the efficiency of the human-dog dyad regarding their overall compatibility, general satisfaction and mutual well-being.
... Second, although the search strategy was designed to find publications using any intervention animal, almost all included studies used dogs. This may be due to the popularity of dogs as companion animals and the feelings of empathy and companionship associated with them, making them a popular choice for AAIs (Custance & Mayer, 2012). Additionally, dogs may have been the easiest option logistically since some studies cooperated with established university-based AAI programs that were already using dogs (Banks et al., 2018;Barker et al., 2016Barker et al., , 2017Grajfoner et al., 2017;Pendry et al., 2018Pendry et al., , 2020Pendry et al., 2019a;Trammell, 2017), and some studies used pet dogs of the researchers Pendry et al., 2018;). ...
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Unlabelled: Due to the high burden of mental health issues among students at higher education institutions world-wide, animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) are being used to relieve student stress. The objective of this study was to systematically review of the effects of AAIs on the mental, physiological, and cognitive outcomes of higher education students. Randomized controlled trials using any unfamiliar animal as the sole intervention tool were included in this review. Study quality was assessed using the Cochrane Risk-of-Bias tool. Where possible, effect sizes (Hedges' g) were pooled for individual outcomes using random-effects meta-analyses. Albatross plots were used to supplement the data synthesis. Of 2.494 identified studies, 35 were included. Almost all studies used dogs as the intervention animal. The quality of most included studies was rated as moderate. Studies showed an overall reduction of acute anxiety and stress. For other mental outcomes, studies showed smaller, but nonetheless beneficial effects. Studies showed no clear effect on physiological or cognitive outcomes. Strong methodological heterogeneity between studies limited the ability to draw clear conclusions. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s11469-022-00945-4.
... Dogs are the oldest domesticated species and have social cognitive abilities that are similar to those of humans, such as understanding of human pointing, use of gaze, and acquisition of perspectives from others [10][11][12]. Additionally, dogs have shown empathy-like responses to humans or conspecifics [13][14][15][16][17]. However, no successful cases of the mark test have been reported [18]. ...
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We examined whether dogs show emotional response to social stimuli played on videos. Secondary, we hypothesized that if dogs recognize themselves in videos, they will show a different emotional response to videos of self and other dogs. We compared heart rate variability among four video stimuli: a video of the owner ignoring another dog (OW-A-IGN), a video of a non-owner interacting with another dog (NOW-A-INT), a video of the owner interacting with another dog (OW-A-INT), and a video of the owner interacting with the dog subject (OW-S-INT). The results showed that root mean square of the difference between adjacent R-R Intervals (RMSSD) and standard deviation of the R-R Interval (SDNN) were lower in NOW-A-INT and OW-S-INT than in OW-A-IGN. There was no statistical difference in the responses to OW-S-INT and OW-A-INT, suggesting that dogs did not distinguish themselves and other dogs in videos. On the other hand, the difference in mean R-R Interval between OW-S-INT and OW-A-INT showed positive correlation with the score of attachment or attention-seeking behavior. Therefore, this study does not completely rule out self-recognition in dogs and there remains the possibility that the more attached a dog to its owner, the more distinct the dog’s emotional response to the difference between the self-video stimulus and the video stimulus of another dog. Further studies are needed to clarify this possibility.
... As mentioned in the Introduction, dog owners can affect the behaviour of their dog. Studies have shown that dogs adjust their behaviour to their owner's overall emotional body posture (Vas et al., 2005;Custance and Mayer, 2012), to the owner's behaviours (Millot, 1994;Merola et al., 2012;Horn et al., 2012;Duranton and Gaunet, 2015); and to the owner's facial expressions (Deputte and Doll, 2011). Other studies detailed in Part 2 of this study reported that physical contact did not have the same effect on dog behaviour as talking (Helsly et al., 2022). ...
... Three respondents regarded Replika as their "electronic pet" providing empathetic responses, with little cognitive and affective empathy being perceived and given in their interaction with Replika. Empathy is a human attribute, but some exploratory studies have found empathic-like responses by pets to distress in humans (Custance & Mayer, 2012;Huber, Barber, Faragó, Müller, & Huber, 2017). By using Replika as an electronic pet for companionship, the respondents do not need to worry about the burden of emotional distress being distributed to other people. ...
As a global health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has also made heavy mental and emotional tolls become shared experiences of global communities, especially among females who were affected more by the pandemic than males for anxiety and depression. By connecting multiple facets of empathy as key mechanisms of information processing with the communication theory of resilience, the present study examines human-AI interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to understand digitally mediated empathy and how the intertwining of empathic and communicative processes of resilience works as coping strategies for COVID-19 disruption. Mixed methods were adopted to explore the using experiences and effects of Replika, a chatbot companion powered by AI, with ethnographic research, in-depth interviews, and grounded theory-based analysis. Findings of this research extend empathy theories from interpersonal communication to human-AI interactions and show five types of digitally mediated empathy among Chinese female Replika users with varying degrees of cognitive empathy, affective empathy, and empathic response involved in the information processing processes, i.e., companion buddy, responsive diary, emotion-handling program, electronic pet, and tool for venting. When processing information obtained from AI and collaborative interactions with the AI chatbot, multiple facets of mediated empathy become unexpected pathways to resilience and enhance users’ well-being. This study fills the research gap by exploring empathy and resilience processes in human-AI interactions. Practical implications, especially for increasing individuals’ psychological resilience as an important component of global recovery from the pandemic, suggestions for future chatbot design, and future research directions are also discussed.
... O autor cita, por exemplo, o caso de uma fêmea matriarca que bebia água de uma forma atípica, mergulhando todo o antebraço na água para depois lamber os pelos dessa região, cujos filhos começaram a fazer o mesmo e, depois, os netos. O comportamento de consolo foi também observado no repertório comportamental dos grandes primatas não humanos (De Waall & van Roosmalen, 1979) e no repertório de animais de estimação, como o cachorro (Custance, & Mayer, 2012). ...
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Da intersubjetividade à empatia: em busca das raízes da cooperação RESUMO Com base nas evidências e reflexões encontradas na Psicologia do Desenvolvimento Humano, na Neurociência, na Psicologia Comparada e na Etologia, argumentamos que a cooperação é entendida como tão fundamental no processo de evolução das espécies que, para facilitá-la, a natureza nos equipou com o mecanismo da empatia para promover a ajuda entre os organismos. Procuramos mostrar como o entendi-mento da empatia foi ampliado com o desvendamento da intersubjetividade primá-ria, com a descoberta dos neurônios-espelho e a partir da melhor compreensão das bases neurais da emoção. Essas descobertas possibilitam entender a empatia como uma forma de comunicação pré-linguística de base emocional, cujos principais ins-trumentos são o mimetismo, a sincronia biocomportamental e o compartilhamento emocional, com origem no cuidado parental. Palavras-chave: Empatia; Cooperação; Intersubjetividade; Imitação; Neurônios-espelho. From intersubjectivity to empathy: searching for the roots of cooperation ABSTRACT Based on the evidences and reflections found in Human Developmental Psychology, Neuroscience, Comparative Psychology and Ethology, we argue that cooperation is understood as so fundamental in the process of evolution of species that to facilitate it, nature has equipped us with the mechanism of empathy to promote aid among organisms. We sought to show how the understanding of empathy was amplified with the uncovering of primary intersubjectivity, with the discovery of mirror neurons, and from the better understanding of the neural basis of emotion. These discoveries make it possible to understand empathy as a form of emotional-based pre-linguistic communication , whose main tools are mimicry, bio-behavioral synchrony, and emotional sharing, originated in parental care.
Tiergestützte Therapie erfreut sich im psychiatrischen und psychotherapeutischen Setting immer größerer Beliebtheit. Dieser Artikel fasst die aktuelle Evidenz zusammen, gibt einen Überblick über die vermutliche Wirkungsweise und geht auf Vorgehensweise, Voraussetzungen und Kontraindikationen des spezifischen Einsatzes eines Therapiebegleithundes in der Psychotherapie im psychiatrischen Setting ein.
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Pese a su relevancia constitucional, los mecanismos de control social como la veeduría tienen una reglamentación tardía, una naturaleza de norma permisiva y la imposibilidad de generar una verdadera vigilancia y control a la gestión pública, ya que está realmente se encuentra en potestad de las instituciones del Estado creadas para tal fin. Por ende, este trabajo busca dar respuesta a la pregunta: ¿Se está cumpliendo la veeduría en el ordenamiento jurídico colombiano por temor a la sanción que genera su no ejecución?
Empathy and altruism are most commonly thought of as forms of compassion that human beings express toward one another. However, emotions and behaviors reflecting apparent concern for others occur within other species and across species as well. Although not without controversy, ethologists and sociobiologists (e.g., Wilson 1975) have identified many behaviors in other animals and insects that may be viewed as prosocial or altruistic (e.g., cooperative efforts of bees, warning calls of many species, rescue behaviors of whales, certain acts of mammalian caregivers toward their young, etc.). There are fewer signs of altruism across species. Some animals can be trained to protect, defend and help others (usually humans) in distress. Animal owners sometimes indicate that their pets show emotional concern for others. In observing parent-child interaction in the home we have seen emotionally distressed pets hovering over persons feigning distress in situations where we are measuring the child’s capacity for empathy. The recent spate of research on animal facilitated therapy attests to the capacity of animals to provide comfort to persons suffering from a variety of physical and emotional problems.
The main aim of this book is to provide a basis for a complete dog behavioural biology based on concepts derived from contemporary ethology. Thus, dog behaviour is viewed from both functional (evolution and ecology) and mechanistic and developmental points of view. The study of dogs is placed in a comparative context which involves comparison with their ancestors (wolves), as well as with humans with which dogs share their present environment. Instead of advocating a single theory which would explain the emergence of dogs during the last 20,000 years of human evolution, this book gives an overview of present knowledge which has been collected by scientists from various fields. It aims to find novel ways to increase our understanding of this complex evolutionary process by combining different methods originating from different scientific disciplines. This is facilitated by describing complementing knowledge provided by various field of science, including zooarchaeology, cognitive and comparative ethology, human-animal interaction, behaviour genetics, behavioural physiology and development, and behavioural ecology. This interdisciplinary approach to the study of dogs deepens our biological understanding of dog behaviour, but also utilizes this knowledge to reveal secrets to behavioural evolution in general, even with special reference to the human species.
Tested the hypothesis that empathy leads to altruistic rather than egoistic motivation to help. 44 female college students watched another female undergraduate receive electric shocks and were then given a chance to help her by taking the remaining shocks themselves. In each of 2 experiments, Ss' empathic emotion (low vs high) and their ease of escape from continuing to watch the victim suffer if they did not help (easy vs difficult) were manipulated in a 2 × 2 design. It was reasoned that if empathy led to altruistic motivation, Ss feeling a high degree of empathy for the victim should be as ready to help when escape without helping was easy as when it was difficult. But if empathy led to egoistic motivation, Ss feeling empathy should be more ready to help when escape was difficult than when it was easy. Results followed the former pattern when empathy was high and the latter pattern when empathy was low, supporting the hypothesis that empathy leads to altruistic rather than egoistic motivation to help. (19 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).
This experiment confirms and extends an earlier finding that a hungry rhesus monkey (O) will avoid securing food if this subjects another monkey (SA) to electric shock. In the present series this “sacrificial” behavior was manifested in 6 of 10 animals independently of the relative position of the two animals in a dominance hierarchy. It was also found that while prior shock of the O resulted in inhibition of responding following the introduction of shock to the SA, this variable was not correlated with the final manifestation of a sacrificial pattern.
Abstract Conflicts over food, access to mates, or other limited resources can sometimes escalate into aggression. In species that form social groups, these aggressive conflicts can jeopardize the benefits of group living, such as enhanced access to valued resources, necessitating the development of behavioural mechanisms that either mitigate conflicts, prevent aggressive escalation or resolve disputes. Two important mechanisms for managing the effects of disputes involve postconflict (PC) affiliative behaviour, either between the former opponents (called ‘reconciliation’) or between one opponent and a third party. Even though numerous studies have tested reconciliatory and third-party affiliation tendencies in primates, for non-primate animals little systematic data are available. We performed behavioural observations on three groups of captive domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and used a PC/MC method to test the existence of reconciliation and third-party affiliation in this species. The results of this study clearly indicate that both reconciliation and third-party PC interactions are present in the domestic dog, and form important social mechanisms of the domestic dog. Furthermore, familiar individuals showed a significantly higher proportion of reconciled conflicts than did unfamiliar individuals, and also displayed fewer conflicts. Finally, we show that most of the third-party affiliations involve the victim of a conflict and that victim-directed affiliation outweighs victim-initiated third-party affiliation in these PC interactions.
It has been proposed that the dog–human relationship constitutes an infantile-like attachment. However, previous empirical support based on Ainsworth's Strange Situation test has proved inconclusive due to order effects inherent in the original procedure. In particular, these order effects compromise the ability to establish an essential facet of attachment: whether or not owners function as a secure base for their pet dogs. Order effects were counteracted in the present study by including a second condition in which the order of owner and stranger presence was counterbalanced. Hence, 38 adult dog-owner pairs were randomly placed in two conditions, both comprised of six 3-min episodes. In condition A, dogs entered an unfamiliar room with their owner; a stranger entered; the owner left the dog with the stranger; the dog was left alone in the room; the owner returned; and finally the dog was left with the stranger again. In condition B, the order in which owner and stranger were present was reversed. Secure-base effects were indicated in that the dogs explored, remained passive, played with the stranger and engaged in individual play more when in the presence of their owner than when left with the stranger or alone. Therefore, the dogs’ behaviour provides evidence consistent with the hypothesis that the dog–human bond constitutes an attachment. The possible role of attachment in canine separation anxiety is briefly discussed.