Matters of development and experience: Evaluation of dog and human emotional expressions by children and adults

Heini Törnqvist, Hanna Höller, Kerstin Vsetecka, Stefanie Hoehl, Miiamaaria V. Kujala

Emotional facial expressions are an important part of across species social communication, yet the factors affecting human recognition of dog emotions have received limited attention. Here, we characterize the recognition and evaluation of dog and human emotional facial expressions by 4-and 6-year-old children and adult participants, as well as the effect of dog experience in emotion recognition. Participants rated the happiness, anger, valence, and arousal from happy, aggressive, and neutral facial images of dogs and humans. Both respondent age and experience influenced the dog emotion recognition and ratings. Aggressive dog faces were rated more often correctly by adults than 4-year-olds regardless of dog experience, whereas the 6-year-olds’ and adults’ performances did not differ. Happy human and dog expressions were recognized equally by all groups. Children rated aggressive dogs as more positive and lower in arousal than adults, and participants without dog experience rated aggressive dogs as more positive than those with dog experience. Children also rated aggressive dogs as more positive and lower in arousal than aggressive humans. The results confirm that recognition of dog emotions, especially aggression, increases with age, which can be related to general dog experience and brain structure maturation involved in facial emotion recognition.

Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology
External organisation(s)
University of Jyväskylä
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501005 Developmental psychology
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