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Sure, dogs are considered man's best friend. But the relationship between man and dog actually goes deeper than that. A new studywritten about in the Los Angeles Times strongly suggests that the domestic dog can recognize and distinguish different states of mind in humans. It's covered in the journal Biology Letters, with the research coming out of the University of Lincoln in Britain and the University of São Paolo in Brazil.
In the study, researchers presented 17 adult dogs with combinations of images and sounds and gauged which combinations held their attention longest. The dogs were tasked with processing images and sounds of other dogs expressing emotions, and of humans doing so, as well. What they determined was that 67 percent of the time, when hearing a happy/playful or an angry/aggressive vocalization, the dogs' gazes lingered on the correct corresponding image.
That means that dogs have the ability to read intent or motivation on another's face, which can come in handy as a survival tool. Within one's own species, it can be used as a way for social organization in the group. In other words, it susses-out the dogs' pecking order. Dogs that could read the emotions in human faces may have a better chance at enlisting protection, shelter and even food from humans.
Dogs' ability to derive emotional information from visual and auditory cues suggests "cognitive capacities not previously demonstrated outside of primates," the study's authors wrote. "Further, the ability of dogs to extract and integrate such information from an unfamiliar human stimulus demonstrates cognitive abilities not known to exist beyond humans."
Such skills suggest why dogs are so good at coexisting with humans. They get us.