Accuracy of Canine vs. Human Emotion Identification: Impact of Dog Ownership and Belief in Animal Mind

Roxanne D. Hawkins, Bianca D.M. Hatin, & Eszter O. Revesz

Division of Psychology, School of Education and Social Sciences,
the University of the West of Scotland, United Kingdom

Humans are adept at extrapolating emotional information from the facial expressions of other humans but may have difficulties identifying emotions in dogs. This can increase risk for compromised dog and human welfare. Experience with dogs, and beliefs in animal minds, may influence interspecies emotional communication, yet limited research has investigated these variables. In this study, participants (n = 122 adults) were asked to identify human and dog emotional facial expressions (happiness, fearfulness, anger/aggression) through an online experimental emotion recognition task. Experience with dogs (through dog ownership and duration of current dog ownership), emotion attribution (through beliefs about animal mind), and demographics were also measured. Results showed that fear and happiness were more easily identified in human faces, whereas aggression was more easily identified in dog faces. Duration of current dog ownership, age, and gender identity did not relate to accuracy scores, but current dog owners were significantly better at identifying happiness in dog faces than non-dog owners. Dog ownership and duration of ownership related to increased beliefs about, and confidence in, the emotional ability of dogs. Additionally, belief in animal sentience was positively correlated with accuracy scores for identifying happiness in dogs. Overall, these exploratory findings show that adult humans, particularly current dog owners and those who believe in the emotionality of dogs, can accurately identify some basic emotions in dogs but may be more skilled at identifying positive than negative emotions. The findings have implications for preventing negative human-animal interactions through intervention strategies that target animal emotionality.

Keywords: belief in animal mind; dog ownership; emotions; facial expressions; human-dog interactions.

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Keywords: belief in animal mind, dog ownership, emotions, facial expressions, human-dog interactions
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