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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Not Guilty? Can You Or Can't You Tell if your Dog has Shifty Eyes?

Rob Stein writes:

Many dog owners have had this experience: Arriving home, they discover their pooch looking sheepish, with its head down, ears pulled back, tail tucked between the legs, maybe slinking behind the sofa. Puzzled, they soon discover the reason: a favorite pair of shoes chewed to pieces, or perhaps the kitchen garbage can upended.

But is their canine companion really acting guilty? Or is this an example of people projecting a human emotion onto their four-legged friend?

A new study concludes that it is more likely the latter -- that the behavior people interpret as dog guilt really is more likely just a reaction to subtle cues from their owners.

"I'm not denying that people have had that experience -- I have had it myself," said Alexandra Horowitz, an assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College in New York who conducted the study published in the July issue of the journal Behavioural Processes. "But I don't think we can say it's because the dogs are showing guilt. I don't think it maps to some inner emotion in the way we think it does."

Horowitz conducted the research as part of a broader interest in understanding anthropomorphisms -- the tendency people have to ascribe human emotions to animals.

link: Dog 'Guilt' Probably Just Reaction to Owners' Cues, Study Finds -


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