Understanding Man’s Best Friend: The Comparison of Pre-schooler’s Abilities to Identify Emotions in Humans and Dogs Using Different Stimuli.
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Abstract The prevalence of dog bites amongst young children has become a serious health problem worldwide (Brogan et al., 1995; Wright, 1985; Beck, Loring and Lockwood, 1975). An explanation for this could be the inability of young children to adequately interpret dog behaviour. Limited research has found that children use their understanding of human emotions to guide their understanding of dogs, which often leads to misinterpretation (Lakestani, 2007; Lakestani et al., 2006; Meints, Racca & Hickey, 2010). The influence of children’s attitudes towards dogs on their ability to identify emotions in them has also been investigated (Lakestani, 2007; Lakestani et al., 2011). The main purpose of the study was to extend this research by comparing the accuracy to which 3-5-year olds categorise emotions of happiness, sadness, anger and fear in humans and dogs and whether their attitude towards dogs influences this. It also evaluated the extent to which static and dynamic stimuli affect the accuracy of emotion recognition. Results show that pre-school children were significantly better at identifying emotions in humans than in dogs and the type of stimuli did not influence emotion recognition in either condition. However, the accuracy to which they identified each emotion did not follow the same trend between the two species, suggesting that recognising emotions in humans does not follow the same pattern when doing this in dogs. Children’s attitudes towards dogs were found not to influence their emotion recognition in dogs, however an association was found between positive attitudes and dog bite victims. The current study indicates a severe inability of pre-school children to interpret dog behaviour and the use of dynamic stimuli will not improve this. Given this result, it is advisable for dog bite prevention programmes to target children from a young age to help prevent future dog bite incidents.