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Is that fear? Domestic dogs' use of social referencing signals from an unfamiliar person

By MinHooi Yong, T. Ruffman

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The aim of this study was to investigate whether dogs could successfully interpret a 'social referencing' cue (either happiness or fear) toward an object after viewing a human emotional expression. Fearful expressions are more likely to be unfamiliar to dogs, and thus they may not understand the meaning of such expressions. When confused, dogs could avoid contact with an object as in 0055 and 0050. The present study compared an experimenter's fearful or happy response when an ambiguous object appeared with a control condition (experimenter was confusing). We examined 114 dogs in one of three conditions; happiness, fearful and the control. We found that dogs were more attentive to the experimenter when she displayed the fearful and control expressions compared to when happy, with no difference between the control and fear conditions. When left alone with the toy, they showed a similar pattern - more interest in the toy in both the fearful and control conditions. Our findings suggest that dogs may not understand the cues in the fearful and control conditions and instead respond with a possible attempt to gain more information from the experimenter.

Publication Title Behavioural Processes
Volume 110
Pages 74-81
ISBN/ISSN 0376-6357
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.09.018
Language English
Author Address Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Activity
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal experimentation
  4. Animals
  5. Canidae
  6. Canine
  7. Carnivores
  8. Dogs
  9. Emotions
  10. Fear
  11. Humans
  12. Mammals
  13. peer-reviewed
  14. Pets and companion animals
  15. responses
  16. Social behavior
  17. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed