Learning emotion recognition from canines? Two for the road
Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2011) 6, 108-114
Birgit U. Stetina, Karoline Turner, Eva Burger, Lisa M. Glenk, Julia C. McElheney, Ursula Handlos, Oswald D. Kothgassner
Study Objectives: This study examined whether participating in an animal-assisted training program with a dog led to an increase in participants’ ability to recognize emotion in human faces. If so, such animal-based programs could help people improve upon their interpersonal emotional recognition skills.
Experimental Design: An experimental group of adults and children underwent weekly 60 minute animal-assisted training sessions for 12 weeks with a trained dog. The children interacted with a male German Shepherd/Labrador named Nikolaus, and the adults interacted with a male Labrador Retriever named Yukon. Both dogs were experienced interacting with people. A control group of children and adults participated in the study and received no animal-assisted training.
The animal-assisted training sessions consisted of guided observation of the dog’s behaviors and feelings, and participants gained knowledge of dog emotional and social competencies.
Before and after the intervention program, participants took a computer-based human emotional recognition test called the Vienna Emotion Recognition Tasks (VERT-K). This test presents pictures of human facial expressions, both emotional and neutral, and participants label the expressions. The VERT-K includes human expressions of anger, disgust, fear, joy, grief and neutral. Members of the control group also took the VERT-K two times at 12-weeks apart but they did not participate in the animal-assisted training program.
Main Findings: After participating in an animal-assisted training program, both children and adults better identified the expressions of fear and anger in human faces. The study concluded that animal-assisted training programs, where humans gain experience identifying emotions in dogs, could contribute to humans’ emotional recognition in other people.
Study summary provided by:
Barnard College 2012
Barnard College 2013