Empathetic people are caring, concerned and interested in others life, basically the opposite of a narcissistic person. So how can this translate to dogs? Well, a study at the University of Helsinki in Finland explores how empathy and other psychological factors in humans affect the evaluations of facial expressions in dogs.
For the first time ever, the study showed that caring and empathetic people can evaluate how dogs are feeling based on the way they appear, but is it always right?
“Empathy affected assessments of dogs’ facial expressions even more than previous experience of dogs, probably because the face is a biologically important stimulus for humans. Our earlier studies have showed, however, that when considering the entire body language of dogs, previous experience of dogs increases in importance,” postdoctoral researcher Miiamaaria Kujala explains to Science Daily.
But how do you know if you’re an empathetic person? Read this definition below. Do you fit the script?
According to the skillsyouneed.com, “Empathy is, at its simplest, awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. It is a key element of emotional intelligence, the link between self and others, because it is how we as individuals understand what others are experiencing as if we were feeling it ourselves.”
During previous research studies, empathetic people evaluated other human beings facial expressions quickly and more accurately than people who did not feel heavy empathy for others. They also perceived facial expressions more intensely. In other words, empathetic people feel more and feel it fast.
Although, they interpret facial reactions in humans correctly, doesn’t always mean what they’re interpreting for dogs is correct.
“Empathy speeds up and intensifies the assessment of dogs’ facial expressions, but defining the accuracy of such assessments is currently unreliable,” Kujala notes.
Basically, humans aren’t always right when it comes to a dog’s thoughts.
Scientists have studied the communication between animals and humans through facial expression and body language for years. Many have found similarities between human facial expressions and animal expressions. In fact, the Animal Mind research group has confirmed that dogs can perceive threatening human facial expressions quite easily.
“They gazed intensively at threatening dogs, but quickly looked away from threatening humans. Also human subjects were good at recognizing the threatening expressions of dogs and considered them much more intense than similar human expressions,” Kujala describes.
To sum it up, dogs find facial expressions in other dogs less threatening and humans find facial expressions in humans less threatening. Each species found the other species less trustworthy and it totally makes sense. Research also shows humans see happier faces on other humans, than they do in other dogs. People more exposed to animal training or canine care are more aware of happy dog faces than others who don’t know dogs well. So get a dog, have some fun, learn their facial expressions then stay best friends forever. They might even trust you more than another dog—maybe.