Huber, A., Barber, A. L. A., Faragó, T. et al. 2017. Investigating emotional contagion in dogs (Canis familiaris) to emotional sounds of humans and conspecifics. Animal Cognition 20(4), 703–715.

Emotional contagion, a basic component of empathy defined as emotional state-matching between individuals, has previously been shown in dogs even upon solely hearing negative emotional sounds of humans or conspecifics. The current investigation further sheds light on this phenomenon by directly contrasting emotional sounds of both species (humans and dogs) as well as opposed valences (positive and negative) to gain insights into intra- and interspecies empathy as well as differences between positively and negatively valenced sounds. Different types of sounds were played back to measure the influence of three dimensions on the dogs’ behavioural response. We found that dogs behaved differently after hearing non-emotional sounds of their environment compared to emotional sounds of humans and conspecifics (“Emotionality” dimension), but the subjects responded similarly to human and conspecific sounds (“Species” dimension). However, dogs expressed more freezing behaviour after conspecific sounds, independent of the valence. Comparing positively with negatively valenced sounds of both species (“Valence” dimension), we found that, independent of the species from which the sound originated, dogs expressed more behavioural indicators for arousal and negatively valenced states after hearing negative emotional sounds. This response pattern indicates emotional state-matching or emotional contagion for negative sounds of humans and conspecifics. It furthermore indicates that dogs recognized the different valences of the emotional sounds, which is a promising finding for future studies on empathy for positive emotional states in dogs.

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