Dogs Can Read Your Facial Expressions -- Can You Read Theirs?

Michelle Washmuth
Oct. 26, 2017

A new study discovered that your personality can affect how you interpret the faces your dog makes.

Photo via Unsplash

A new study, published by the University of Helsinki and Aalto University, found that people’s personalities can determine whether they can read accurately facial expressions in both humans and dogs.

The Methodology

The study involved 34 participants -- 15 males and 19 females between the ages of 25 and 46. Researchers showed the participants a total of 80 different images: 30 were of dog faces (10 of which showed the facial expressions of "Threatening Dogs," 10 of which showed the facial expressions of "Neutral Dogs" and 10 of which showed the facial expressions of "Pleasant Dogs"); 30 were of human faces (10 of which showed the facial expressions of "Threatening Humans," 10 of which showed the facial expressions of "Neutral Humans" and 10 of which showed the facial expressions of "Pleasant Humans"). The last 20 images were used as controls: 10 were images of common household objects, and 10 were abstract images of scrambled neutral dog faces.

The Results

Results showed that people with more empathetic personalities were able to evaluate other people’s expressions more quickly, accurately and intensely than those who were less empathetic, according to a release on the school's website.

Additionally, more empathetic people could interpret facial expressions in dogs more confidently and quickly than others, even if they didn't have much experience around dogs.

That didn't mean they were always right, though.

"Empathy speeds up and intensifies the assessment of dogs’ facial expressions, but defining the accuracy of such assessments is currently unreliable," postdoctoral researcher Miiamaaria Kujala said in the release. "...Our earlier studies have showed, however, that when considering the entire body language of dogs, previous experience of dogs increases in importance."

Researchers found that "Threatening Dog" expressions are easier for most humans to interpret correctly than"Pleasant Dog" expressions. Here, people with experience in dog training also seemed to have an advantage.

The researchers had previously tried the experiment in reverse, in which they showed dogs pictures of humans and other dogs with various facial expressions. The dog subjects couldn't answer questionaires, but their behavior gave the researchers some indication of how they interpreted the expressions in the pictures.

“They gazed intensively at threatening dogs, but quickly looked away from threatening humans," Kujala said.

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