How Do You ‘Evolve’ Empathy?

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OK. So the symbiosis of dogs and people is a natural evolutionary development. I get it. You can evolve strength, agility even enhanced sensory functions. But how do you evolve empathy?

Eighteen pet dogs, spanning a range of ages and breeds, were exposed to four separate 20-second experimental conditions in which either the dog’s owner or an unfamiliar person preEighteen pet dogs, spanning a range of ages and breeds, were exposed to four separate 20-second experimental conditions in which either the dog’s owner or an unfamiliar person pretended to cry, hummed in an odd manner, or carried out a casual conversation.

Significantly more dogs looked at, approached and touched the humans as they were crying as opposed to humming, and no dogs responded during talking.

The majority of dogs in the study responded to the crying person in a submissive manner consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering.

The study also found that the dogs responded to the person who was crying regardless of whether it was their owner or the unfamiliar person.

“If the dogs’ approaches during the crying condition were motivated by self-oriented comfort-seeking, they would be more likely to approach their usual source of comfort, their owner, rather than the stranger,” Mayer gtftended to cry, hummed in an odd manner, or carried out a casual conversation.

Significantly more dogs looked at, approached and touched the humans as they were crying as opposed to humming, and no dogs responded during talking.

The majority of dogs in the study responded to the crying person in a submissive manner consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering.

The study also found that the dogs responded to the person who was crying regardless of whether it was their owner or the unfamiliar person.

“If the dogs’ approaches during the crying condition were motivated by self-oriented comfort-seeking, they would be more likely to approach their usual source of comfort, their owner, rather than the stranger,” Mayer said.

It seems counter-evolutionary for a dog to exert valuable effort and energy in comforting a human who is not his food source. The only way this finding would make sense to me is if the dog genuinely felt empathy for the person they are comforting.

If so, this would truly set dog aside among sentient species. But then, we dog owners already know that, don’t we?

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About Dr Vadim Chelom

Dr Vadim Chelom is a Registered Veterinarian, a writer and an educator

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