Study asks: Do dogs know how we feel? Ask any dog owner whether their canine companion understands them and the answer will likely be yes. Now, University of Otago psychology researchers are running experiments to find out if dogs really can detect human emotional messages. Over the past 15 months, Associate Prof Ted Ruffman and a team of students have put 90 Dunedin dogs, of all shapes sizes and breeds, through their paces. Some have been shown recorded images of babies laughing, crying and babbling, while others have been given a specific verbal instruction from humans displaying either happy or stern expressions. The dogs’ responses indicated they could indeed differentiate a happy human from an angry or sad one and a laugh from a cry, Prof Ruffman said. “We know dogs are very good at picking up on human gestures … and it seems they are very good at picking up on human emotions, too.” The dogs who watched the crying baby responded differently to those who saw the laughing or babbling
child, he said. They strained to get behind the television screen to “find” the baby, cocked their heads, and showed signs of concern. Prof Ruffman said it was known humans had a strong physiological response to a baby crying in distress and it seemed dogs had a similar response. The studies were designed to try to find out whether dogs had a natural empathetic response to human emotion, or whether their reactions were based on the positive reinforcements they received from humans as a result.”If dogs do show natural concern, it would explain a lot about why they are treated as caring members of the family.”The research team was seeking more dogs to carry out further studies, he said. One proposed experiment was whether dogs would react in different ways to humans giving non-verbal expressions of emotions such as happiness or fear. Another, which still required ethical approval, would look for the presence of the stress hormone cortisol in dog saliva. ~ University of Otago Associate Professor Ted Ruffman; Social/Emotion Understanding in Older Adults (60+ Years): We have found that some older adults are worse at recognising some emotions relative to younger adults. In particular, they
have difficulty identifying anger and sadness in facial, bodily and auditory expressions. They also seem worse when identifying which persons look dangerous but not when identifying dangerous situations. When attempting to identify emotional expressions, younger adults tend to focus on the most informative regions of faces, whereas older adults do not. We think all of these differences can be traced to decline of the “social brain” with age, in particular, the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex. Theory of Mind in Children: We are interested in theory of mind development (understanding of beliefs, desires, intentions) from birth to about 4 or 5 years. We are investigating how mothers’ language might facilitate children’s theory of mind (and their general language development), how it relates to their ability to discern statistical patterns in stimuli (statistical learning), and how a theory of mind might impact on the child’s real life. A central theme is the relation between explicit (verbal) and implicit (eg, eye gaze, galvanic skin response) measures of social understanding. Anyone wishing to participate in the study can contact Prof Ruffman ~ History of the University of Otago; The University of Otago, founded in 1869
by an ordinance of the Otago Provincial Council, is New Zealand’s oldest university. The new University was given 100,000 acres of pastoral land as an endowment and authorised to grant degrees in Arts, Medicine, Law and Music. The University opened in July 1871 with a staff of just three Professors, one to teach Classics and English Language and Literature, another having responsibility for Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, and the third to cover Mental and Moral Philosophy. The following year a Professor of Natural Science joined the staff. With a further endowment provided in 1872, the syllabus was widened and new lectureships established: lectures in Law started in 1873, and in 1875 courses began in Medicine. Lectures in Mining were given from 1872, and in 1878 a School of Mines was established; this later became the Department of Mineral Technology and was transferred to the University of Auckland in 1987. The University was originally housed in a building (later the Stock Exchange) on the site of John Wickliffe House in Princes Street but it moved to its present site with the completion of the northern parts of the Clocktower and Geology buildings in 1878 and 1879. The School of Dentistry was founded in 1907 and the School
of Home Science (now Consumer and Applied Sciences) in 1911. Teaching in Accountancy and Commerce subjects began in 1912. Various new chairs and lectureships were established in the years between the two world wars, and in 1946 teaching began in the Faculty of Theology. The School of Physical Education was opened in 1947. A federal University of New Zealand was established by statute in 1870 and became the examining and degree-granting body for all New Zealand university institutions until 1961. The University of Otago had conferred just one Bachelor of Arts degree, on Mr Alexander Watt Williamson, when in 1874 it became an affiliated college of the University of New Zealand. In 1961 the University of New Zealand was disestablished, and the power to confer degrees was restored to the University of Otago by the University of Otago Amendment Act 1961.Since 1961, when its roll was about 3,000, the University has expanded considerably (in 2002 there were some 18,000 students enrolled) and has broadened its range of courses to include undergraduate courses in Surveying, Pharmacy, Medical Laboratory Science, Education, Teaching and Physiotherapy, as well as specialised postgraduate courses in a variety of disciplines. sources: odt.co.nz – otago.ac.nz
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