When reading a dog with his tail tailed and ears flattened, he does not necessarily have to do anything: this seemingly guilty behavior is independent of whether or not the animal disobeyed a ban, an American researcher has shown. The dog reacts to the signals of its owner. If, for example, he is scolded despite correct behavior, he looks clearly guilty, while a really naughty dog, who does not feel any consequences, does not show this behavior. The study shows once more how much one tends to base animal gestures and poses on human emotions, writes Alexandra Horowitz of Barnard College in New York. Horowitz designed a few simple experiments to investigate the tendency toward the anthropomorphic anthropomorphization of human behavior. She asked 14 dog owners to forbid their dogs to eat a special treat. Subsequently, the owners should leave the room while the dogs' behavior was recorded on video. In some experiments, the scientist brought the animals to eat the food, in others she made sure that the dogs left the treats as instructed in peace. Finally, the dog owners were called in again and informed if their dog had been good or not.
There were four variants: In two of them Horowitz told the owners the truth about whether the dogs had eaten the food or not. In the other two, they lied to their masters, either mentioning that an innocent animal had disobeyed the order and plastered the treats, or praised a dog as good and obedient, who in truth had not heard the order.
Whether the dogs looked guilty was practically independent of whether or not they had eaten the food illegally, the evaluation showed. Especially the dogs, who were actually innocent and were scolded by their master anyway, showed the typical behavior. Horowitz sees this as a clear evidence that the dogs are not aware of a potential misconduct and are ashamed of it, but that they only respond to the behavior of their owner? even if many dog owners swear that their four-legged friends actually has a bad conscience.
Alexandra Horowitz (Barnard College, New York): Behavioral Processes, Vol. 81, p. 447 ddp / science.de? Ilka Lehnen-Beyel advertisement