It’s true: humans have emotional, biological connections with animals

By on March 23, 2017

If you’ve got a companion animal, and you’ve been together for any amount of time, you probably feel like you understand each other. Sure, we’re nowhere close to dogs or cats on the genetic level, but we seem to think we know what our animals are thinking or trying to tell us. Is this true? Are we, as humans, simply assuming we know everything? Is there some strange thing happening between us and our animals?

A recent study out of Finland has shown us something we probably already knew- humans, through empathy and biological means, are able to read facial expressions of animals and  decipher what they are telling us. Now it’s science, so don’t feel like you have a weird relationship with your cat anymore. They say it’s real, so go with it.

Here’s what happened in the recent study: A group of people were shown photos of 30 humans and animals. The photos were close-ups and showed human and animal facial expressions, blurry images, or objects. In general, this article says, volunteers who looked at the photos agreed when the expressions were either happy, neutral, or threatening.

Ok, so what? Well, here’s what’s cool about the study. First, the results indicate that while the volunteers had varying histories with animals (some have them, some never had, everything in between), we need not have experience with animals to be able to tell what they are expressing. It’s in our ability to discern and empathize that we are able to understand the facial expressions presented to us. “So even without training, we may understand some of the dogs’ emotional gestures if [they are] similar enough to the human respective gestures,” said the lead researcher from the Finnish study.

Second- and this speaks to our deep connection to our animals: although dogs and humans share a few genetic characteristics, we aren’t very similar biologically. We have, though, evolved “in tandem” as we’ve been domesticating dogs for about 32,000 years. We have since developed “similar genetic markers for diet, neural processing, and disease.

So in sum, this research is interesting because of its findings (humans have the capacity for identifying what a facial expression means in other humans and in animals), but also because it’s indicative of recent trends we all feel and are a part of. We want to include our animals in many aspects of our lives. We treat animals like they are members of the family. We are in tune with nature and other creatures. This is all positive and research, and research trends, shows us that we’re really very close to our animals on an emotional level.

Again, we already sort of knew this, but now we’ve got some empirical evidence to prove our closeness, which is just fine.

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