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Description: You have likely been told over and over in your psychology classes that when you are thinking about designing a research study or when you are thinking about how to narrow a question you have down to one that is actually testable you need to make sure that you do not let any of your pre-existing assumptions about how that part of the world works get in the way of your asking clear questions or, perhaps more importantly, get in the way of you objectively interpreting the data you gathered in your study. Do you think you could do that? Well we tend to assume that people who are biased are sort of cheating if they are letting their beliefs influence their research data interpretations and that they could be objective if they just wanted to or tried. With that in mind, look at the picture below. Even if that were not your puppy I bet you would have a VERY hard time not attributing all sorts of friendly, positive communicative thoughts to that cute little creature (unless, of course, you are a “cat” person). Anyone who has a dog will likely tell you they are pretty sure their dog understands them when they talk to them and that their dog’s facial expressions are themselves communicative (ask a dog own how their dog’s face looks when their owner asks in a stern voice “Who did this?!!” Think a minute about how you might design a study to see if dogs DO, in fact use their facial “expressions” to communicate with humans. Oh, and simply asking dog owners if they think this is true of their dogs is NOT good science, at least in addressing this question. Once you have a design (including a scheme for interpreting the data) have a read through the article linked below and see how what your proposed compares to what the researchers in this study did.

Source: Dogs have pet facial expressions to use on humans, study finds, Nicola Davis, Science, The Guardian.

Date: October 19, 2017

Photo Credit:  Chris Radburn/PA

Links:  Article Link — https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/19/dogs-have-pet-facial-expressions-to-use-on-humans-study-finds

So maybe dogs don’t just look like that when they feel things and maybe puppies do not simply look cute (they DO but there might be more going on than that). Human faces and not food (an emotional topic for most dogs) produced nuances facial expressions. So maybe dog DO communicate with their owners. But, there are limits and uncertainties to these findings. As the researchers suggest we DO NOT know dog’s intensions and the shaping of dogs by the process of domestication may also be at play.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How do dog’s facial expression vary when their owner is or is not looking at them?
  2. If there IS a difference as asked above, what might it reflect?
  3. What does thinking about canine facial expressions suggest about the issues of objectivity, bias, and demand characteristics in psychological research?

References (Read Further):
Kaminski, Julianne, Hynds, Jennifer, Morris, Paul & Waller, Bridget (2017) Human attention affects facial expressions in domestic dogs, Scientific Reports, Published online. http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/s41598-017-12781-x
Andics, A., Gábor, A., Gácsi, M., Faragó, T., Szabó, D., & Miklósi, Á. (2016). Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs. Science, 353(6303), 1030-1032. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Attila_Andics/publication/307475862_Neural_mechanisms_for_lexical_processing_in_dogs/links/57cd46d108ae3ac722b6041e.pdf

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