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Research: Babies reading emotions of dogs better than adults

Research: Babies reading emotions of dogs better than adults



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PROVO -- Researchers at BYU say their new psychological study shows babies can read the emotions of dogs very well, maybe better than you can.

Here's how the experiment went: First, researchers put up two pictures of the same dog.

"On one side, it had a positive or happy expression with [its] ears up and mouth open. On the other side, the ears were pinned back; the mouth was also open bearing teeth," explained Ross Flom, associate professor of physiology and neuroscience at BYU.

Then they played an aggressive bark and a friendly bark and had the subject match the bark with the correct picture. Flom says babies do this better than adults do.

"Infants will tend to look longer at the display that matches what they're hearing," Flom said. "[Adults] tend to treat both the aggressive and non-aggressive bark as aggressive."

How can you tell what babies are thinking? They're not filling out questionnaires or anything.

"They can answer questions based on some of their behavior, by how long they look or where they look and the types of events they prefer to look at," Flom explained.

He says as babies we're born with the ability to read emotions from a broad range of species, but that ability gets weaker as we lose constant contact with those animals.

"Because they're always being exposed to humans and human faces and voices, that takes precedent," he explained.

Out of all the things to study in the world, why study the connection between babies and dogs?

"Canines and humans have such a long history of coexisting," Flom said.

Flom says younger babies can also recognize emotions in humans speaking in other languages. However, as they lose contact with people speaking other languages, that type of emotion recognition is also lost.

E-mail: pnelson@ksl.com

Paul Nelson

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