Study: Dogs as adept at empathy as young humans

Score another point for man's best friend.

Dogs are fantastic. I could probably write an entire novel up top here about how great dogs are. On a scale of 1 to 10, dogs are 2,000. And researchers have evidence to back that up.


A recent study from the journal Learning and Behavior shows that dogs both feel and act upon empathy. 

Thirty-four dogs—of which 16 were trained therapy dogs—and their owners were separated by a closed, opaque door. The dogs were hooked up to a heart-rate monitor to measure their stress levels. After a short while, the owners either hummed or gave a "distressed cry". Researchers measured how long it took for dogs to react. They found that dogs whose owners gave the distressed cry opened the door three times faster than those whose owners had just hummed. Their stress levels were raised, but only by enough to accomplish the task of opening the door.

Here's the key: the dogs suppressed their own feelings of distress and helped out. This is key because this is ultimately what young humans learn to do—rather, must learn to do—in order to help out (see the studies by Eisenberg et al., 1996 and Eisenberg & Fabes, 1990). You/me/dogs can't do anything when stress levels are matched with the person in stress, therefore empathy has to be attempted. (After all, what is the biological benefit of matching stress levels with someone in need?) 

Funnily enough, the dogs whose owners hummed had no change in stress levels but instead opened the door out of curiosity. And the therapy dogs didn't open the door any quicker than the other dogs. 

Want to see the experiment for yourself? Sure you do.

Dogs that could suppress their own distress were the ones who acted on their empathy and jumped into action. Julia Meyers-Manor of Ripon College, a co-author of the study, posits: "It appears that adopting another's emotional state through emotional contagion alone is not sufficient to motivate an empathetic helping response; otherwise, the most stressed dogs could have also opened the door. The extent of this empathetic response and under what conditions it can be elicited deserve further investigation, especially as it can improve our understanding of the shared evolutionary history of humans and dogs." 

This display of empathy is to be expected, as dogs have been living alongside humankind for millennia. Dogs were first domesticated twice by humans around 12,500 years ago: once in Asia and once in what is now Western Europe. You can read the full study here, it's quite interesting. 

And now, here are four minutes of dogs jumping on trampolines: 

Space is dead: A challenge to the standard model of quantum mechanics

Since the idea of locality is dead, space itself may not be an aloof vacuum: Something welds things together, even at great distances.

Videos
  • Realists believe that there is an exactly understandable way the world is — one that describes processes independent of our intervention. Anti-realists, however, believe realism is too ambitious — too hard. They believe we pragmatically describe our interactions with nature — not truths that are independent of us.
  • In nature, properties of Particle B may be depend on what we choose to measure or manipulate with Particle A, even at great distances.
  • In quantum mechanics, there is no explanation for this. "It just comes out that way," says Smolin. Realists struggle with this because it would imply certain things can travel faster than light, which still seems improbable.
Keep reading Show less

Vaping changes blood vessels after one use, even without nicotine

E-cigarettes may be safer than traditional cigarettes, but they come with their own risks.


John Keeble
/GETTY
Surprising Science
  • A new study used an MRI machine to examine how vaping e-cigarettes affects users' cardiovascular systems immediately after inhalation.
  • The results showed that vaping causes impaired circulation, stiffer arteries and less oxygen in their blood.
  • The new study adds to a growing body of research showing that e-cigarettes – while likely safer than traditional cigarettes – are far from harmless.
Keep reading Show less

Russia sends humanoid robot to space, fails to dock with ISS

The Russian-built FEDOR was launched on a mission to help ISS astronauts.

Photos by TASS\TASS via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Russia launched a spacecraft carrying FEDOR, a humanoid robot.
  • Its mission is to help astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
  • Such androids can eventually help with dangerous missions likes spacewalks.
Keep reading Show less