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Developing visual discrimination tasks for dogs

By Joana Maria Guilherme Martins Fernandes

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The study of animal emotion has risen in the past decades, and because non-human animals cannot talk about their feelings, different techniques have been developed with the aim to understand emotions and improve animal welfare. Here, I intended to assess animal emotions by two different approaches, cognitive bias and lateralization of the brain. Cognitive bias studies have shown that individuals in a more negative affective state tend to interpret ambiguous cues more negatively rather than those in a positive affective state. Brain lateralization studies have shown the left hemisphere is responsible for the processing and control of positive emotions and the right hemisphere for negative emotions. In this project, I intended to develop a visual discrimination tasks for dogs. Firstly, a cognitive bias test, in which subjects were trained to response to human facial expressions (‘happy’ face vs. ‘angry’ face), and their reaction to ambiguous faces would be analysed. It was predicted that an individual in a putatively more negative state would interpret ambiguous faces more negatively. Finally, a brain lateralization test, in which ‘aggressive’ and ‘neutral’ dog facial expressions, and puzzle pictures of these two (control), were shown at the same time at both sides, left and right, to see whether dogs would present head-orientating bias, depending on the valence of the picture shown. A head-orientating bias to the left was expected when ‘aggressive’ stimuli were shown, and to the right when ‘neutral’ stimuli were shown. In the cognitive bias test, the subjects did not past the training phase, which might be related with practical issues. In the brain lateralization test, the stimuli presented did not have a significant effect on the frequency of head movements to the left or right, or on the latency to look and time spent looking at either side. Possible future investigations are discussed.


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2012
Pages 60
Publisher Universidade de Lisboa
Location of Publication Lisbon, Portugal
Department Biologia Animal
Degree Biologia Evolutiva e do Desenvolvimento
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Brain
  2. Dogs
  3. Emotions
  4. Health
  5. Mammals
  6. stimuli