Dogs evaluate threatening facial expressions by their biological validity - evidence from gazing patterns

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Somppi , S , Törnqvist , H , Kujala , M V , Hänninen , L , Krause , C M & Vainio , O 2016 , ' Dogs evaluate threatening facial expressions by their biological validity - evidence from gazing patterns ' , PLoS One , vol. 11 , no. 1 , 0143047 .

Title: Dogs evaluate threatening facial expressions by their biological validity - evidence from gazing patterns
Author: Somppi, Sanni; Törnqvist, Heini; Kujala, Miiamaaria V.; Hänninen, Laura; Krause, Christina M.; Vainio, Outi
Contributor organization: Equine and Small Animal Medicine
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Departments of Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Research Centre for Animal Welfare
Production Animal Medicine
Laura Hänninen / Principal Investigator
Behavioural Sciences
Outi Vainio / Principal Investigator
Date: 2016-01-13
Language: eng
Number of pages: 16
Belongs to series: PLoS One
ISSN: 1932-6203
Abstract: Appropriate response to companions' emotional signals is important for all social creatures. The emotional expressions of humans and non-human animals have analogies in their form and function, suggesting shared evolutionary roots, but very little is known about how animals other than primates view and process facial expressions. In primates, threat-related facial expressions evoke exceptional viewing patterns compared with neutral or positive stimuli. Here, we explore if domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) have such an attentional bias toward threatening social stimuli and whether observed emotional expressions affect dogs' gaze fixation distribution among the facial features (eyes, midface and mouth). We recorded the voluntary eye gaze of 31 domestic dogs during viewing of facial photographs of humans and dogs with three emotional expressions (threatening, pleasant and neutral). We found that dogs' gaze fixations spread systematically among facial features. The distribution of fixations was altered by the seen expression, but eyes were the most probable targets of the first fixations and gathered longer looking durations than mouth regardless of the viewed expression. The examination of the inner facial features as a whole revealed more pronounced scanning differences among expressions. This suggests that dogs do not base their perception of facial expressions on the viewing of single structures, but the interpretation of the composition formed by eyes, midface and mouth. Dogs evaluated social threat rapidly and this evaluation led to attentional bias, which was dependent on the depicted species: threatening conspecifics' faces evoked heightened attention but threatening human faces instead an avoidance response. We propose that threatening signals carrying differential biological validity are processed via distinctive neurocognitive pathways. Both of these mechanisms may have an adaptive significance for domestic dogs. The findings provide a novel perspective on understanding the processing of emotional expressions and sensitivity to social threat in non-primates.
413 Veterinary science
Peer reviewed: Yes
Rights: cc_by
Usage restriction: openAccess
Self-archived version: publishedVersion

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