Many animal lovers are guilty of assigning meaning, including human emotions, to a dog’s facial expressions. We’ve all done it…sometimes it looks like a dog is smiling and happy, other times they might look guilty, or those raised eyebrows make them look worried. How much meaning we assign to a dog’s facial movements—and if those meanings are accurate or just wishful thinking—is a topic that has been studied by scientists for years.
A new study out of the University of Helsinki and Aalto University sheds some light on how your perception of a dog’s facial expressions may say more about what kind of person you are than what the dog is feeling. It turns out, people who are emotionally empathetic tend to assign more meaning to a dog’s facial expressions than others who are less empathetic.
The researchers note that people with strong emotional empathy are actually very good at evaluating the feelings behind other humans’ facial expressions, but warn that when it comes to dogs, we over-interpret their emotions when we just look at their faces. They point out that a more reliable way to asses what’s going on inside a dog’s head is to look at their overall body language.
As an example of the tendency of empathetic people to assign greater meaning to a dog’s face, the researchers point to a study that shows dog trainers tend to rate a dog’s “happy” expression as happier than people who don’t work with dogs.
Interested in learning more? Check out the full study HERE.