Friday, July 24, 2009

Babies understand dogs

Gibson, an obviously happy dog

Have you seen the media response to the July 2009 article in Developmental Psychology on babies & dogs? "Infants’ intermodal perception of canine (Canis familairis) facial expressions and vocalizations" by authors Flom, Whipple & Hyde is taking the world by storm, with coverage in DiscoveryNews, LiveScience®,, and more.

The researchers describe how they showed babies (ages 6-24 months) unfamiliar with dogs two pictures: one dog with an aggressive expression and a second photo of the same dog with a non-aggressive posture. Before hearing the barks, the babies showed no preference for either photo and stared around the room at other things in addition to looking at the pictures. But after hearing the barks, babies as young as six months understood the connection between the pictures and the sounds. In older babies, their first look went toward the correct dog picture upon hearing the bark. The study showed that babies responded to the information differently as they got older. Younger babies spent more time staring at the pictures, apparently trying to figure out what was going on.

Jeanna Bryner, Senior Writer for LiveScience®, recently covered the study and interviewed one of the authors. You can see examples of the pictures the babies were shown (the aggressive dog pictures are scary!) and the researcher's (sometimes humorous) thoughts about the study in her article, Babies Grasp Dogs' Emotions.

As our baby approaches the six month mark, I often wonder what she is thinking. She responds to our smiles with smiles of her own. Clearly, understanding emotion is a priority for the little ones. "[These] new findings come on the heels of a study from the same Brigham Young University lab showing that infants can detect mood swings in Beethoven's music," reports I wonder if babies ever smile at dogs?

Our Princess often startles from loud noise, but our dog's bark has never bothered her. She even sleeps through our dog's (sometimes protracted) barking jags. Somehow, knowing that Princess senses our dog's mood makes me feel better about them sharing her Boppy® pillow.

Photo credit of happy dog Gibson: Mike McCune, through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.


Cheryl M. said...

Have you read The Scientist in the Crib? It's pretty interesting.

jublke said...

You know, I haven't read that one yet. Have you profiled it on your blog? I'd love to learn more about it. :)