Dogs can infer implicit information from human emotional expressions

The ability to infer emotional states and their wider consequences requires the establishment of relationships between the emotional display and subsequent actions. These abilities, together with the use of emotional information from others in social decision making, are cognitively demanding and require inferential skills that extend beyond the immediate perception of the current behaviour of another individual. They may include predictions of the significance of the emotional states being expressed. These abilities were previously believed to be exclusive to primates. In this study, we presented adult domestic dogs with a social interaction between two unfamiliar people, which could be positive, negative or neutral. After passively witnessing the actors engaging silently with each other and with the environment, dogs were given the opportunity to approach a food resource that varied in accessibility. We found that the available emotional information was more relevant than the motivation of the actors (i.e. giving something or receiving something) in predicting the dogs’ responses. Thus, dogs were able to access implicit information from the actors’ emotional states and appropriately use the affective information to make context-dependent decisions. The findings demonstrate that a non-human animal can actively acquire information from emotional expressions, infer some form of emotional state and use this functionally to make decisions.


University of Lincoln, College of Social Science

Natalia Albuquerque, University of São Paulo, Institute of Psychology and University of Lincoln, School of Life Sciences

Daniel S. Mills, University of Lincoln, School of Life Sciences

Kun Guo, University of Lincoln, School of Psychology

Briseida Resende, University of São Paulo, Institute of Psychology