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Dogs Can Mimic Each Other’s Facial Expressions To Show Empathy


We humans aren’t the only ones capable of understanding each other through communication. Animals do it too, although each species does it in slightly different ways. For example, bees perform series of dances to exchange information and apes (much like humans) use facial expressions. And though you might think that all that dogs do is bark, newest research has found that our canine friends can also use facial expressions to communicate emotions.

According to an Italian study, dogs are actually capable of mimicking each other’s facial expressions as a basic way of communicating their emotions and feeling empathy. They do this in order to bond with other dogs and gain trust, and this is a phenomenon that may have emerged during the process of domestication. In other words, they learned how to read our facial expressions and replicate them. This is significant news because until recently, we’ve believed that humans alone are capable of social bonding, with the exception of primates such as orangutans and chimpanzees. This is why you almost unconsciously smile and laugh back when someone smiles or laughs.

As in humans, and perhaps even more so, this is an automatic, involuntary response, according to lead researcher Dr. Elisabetta Palagi. Dogs have no way of controlling it, just like humans. The team of three researchers, working in Rome with the Unit of Cognitive Primatology and Primate Center, videotaped dogs that were playing in a park and analyzed their behavior. They concluded, after 50 hours of video, that dogs were perfectly able to mimic the movements and facial expressions of their playmates in a split second.

Dr. John Bradshow from the University of Bristol School of Veterinary science said that more research definitely needs to be done to know for sure if dogs really know what other dogs are thinking and feeling. The researchers’ next step is to study wolves in order to shed more light on how these animals can read emotions. If the research conducted so far has been accurate enough, wolves, who are wild animals, shouldn’t be as skilled in mimicking facial expressions and communicating emotions as our furry friends and this would mean that dogs are able to feel empathy thanks to all those centuries of domestication.

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