Humans “surprisingly” struggle to identify aggressive behavior in dogs and in other people, according to a new study that may help reduce dog-biting incidents.
Humans constantly interpret cues in social situations and the ability to tell whether another person or animal is happy or aggressive has major evolutionary advantages, said scientists from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
In the research, 92 adult participants viewed a series of short video clips showing the start of a non-verbal interaction between two children, two domestic dogs or two Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus).
The videos included signals about the nature of the interaction, such as body postures and facial expressions.
However, the clips were stopped just before the interaction took place.
Scientists asked half the participants to categorise the interaction as aggressive, neutral or playful, and the other half to predict the outcome from three possible options.
While the participants performed better than expected by chance at both tasks, they did not do so while assessing aggressive interactions in dogs and humans, researchers explained.
The participants were accurate in categorising playful interactions, which they correctly identified 70 per cent of the time, according to the study.
But they performed “particularly poorly” at predicting the outcome of aggressive interactions in dogs, researchers noted.
Scientists also found that people who were good at predicting outcomes for one species also performed better than average for the other species.
Humans may be biased to assume good intentions from other humans and dogs, something that may prevent the accurate recognition of aggresive interactions, researchers said.
To reduce dog biting incidents, new dog owners could benefit from improved education about dog behaviour and learning to identify aggressive interactions.
“Humans are quite good at categorising and predicting social situations with other humans, dogs and monkeys, but it depends on the context. Surprisingly, humans underestimate aggression in dogs,” scientists wrote in the study.
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