Dogs can mimic expressions in a form of empathy that scientists call “emotional contagion” in a new study coming out of Italy. Scientists used 49 dogs as their subjects and filmed the dogs during play and found that they did mimic the expressions of the other dogs that they interacted with. This new finding also suggests that your dog mimics your expressions as well!
According to SBS News on December 23, this research was done at a dog park where the dogs had a chance at uninterrupted play with their counterparts. The playful behavior that was witnessed as contagious between the dogs included actions such as, “when a dog keeps its mouth open and relaxed, or when it crouches on its front legs and wags its tail.”
According to Live Science, researchers set out on this research because they wanted to see if dogs, like humans, experienced rapid mimicry. Much like humans, dogs are social animals. In the canine world they use their eyes, lips, teeth, heads, tails and bodies in communicative ways. As a result the scientist noted that:
“For the first time, researchers discovered the presence of rapid mimicry in dogs. They found that dogs mimicked playful interactions more rapidly and strongly than other behaviors, such as jumps or bites. Moreover, playful sessions interspersed with rapid mimicry lasted longer than ones without it,” according to Live Science.
The study was done by the Royal Society Open Science and the findings were reported as “dogs can instantly mimic each others’ facial expressions, as well as that of their owners and other humans they interact with.” The scientists published their findings on December 23 in the journal Open Science.
It is a basic form of empathy that dogs share with the dog or person the dog is imitating. The research showed how dogs also mimic the expression of humans. This is something humans and other primates also do. As an example think about all the times you have seen someone yawn and followed suit or you have yawned and started a chain reaction among the people around you.
This research found that dogs mimic facial expressions of other dogs or humans within a split second, which is considered an involuntary response rather than something they’ve learned through training. Dog lovers have known for a long time that dogs are empathetic especially when it comes to their owners.
Dogs also pick up on the emotions of their owners and family members. According to Live Science: “Previous research found that dogs can recognize humans’ emotional facial expressions and body postures, and that human yawns can also unleash dog yawns. The researchers of the new study suggested that potential dog empathy with humans could shed light on how people domesticated dogs.”