It’s true that dogs really are man’s best friend.
Japan’s Kyoto University just released a research report that found that dogs “are extremely sensitive to social signals from humans,” and rapidly learn to “stop trusting” people who “behave negatively” with respect to their owners.
To conduct the study, researchers split up 54 dogs into three different groups, with each group of dogs participating in a slightly tweaked variation of the same interaction.
In every test, the dog’s owner acted as if they were having difficulty removing the lid of a “transparent jar,” which contained an object that had “no value” to the pups.
Each different situation also took place with a bystander who would either help, refuse to assist or “spontaneously turn away” from the dog’s owner before being asked to help. In addition, there was another neutral bystander on the scene for each variation, who stared down at the floor throughout the experiment, neither helping nor hurting the dog’s owner.
After the event took place, both the bystander and the neutral bystander would offer the dog exactly the same treats at the same time, and the pup would choose which to take the treat from.
Although there was no set pattern to which treats the canines picked when the bystander either helped or turned away from the owner without being asked to help, the dogs “were significantly biased against the actor in the ‘non-helper’ condition,” the study says.
As the study also adds, this outcome “was unlikely to be related to any benefit to the dogs” as the object inside the jar their owner was trying to open was not valuable to the dogs, and they were allowed to have a treat either way. Instead, the study shows that pups, like humans, are able to figure out which people are “nasty” and then stay away from them.
The researchers went on to add that this “negativity bias” has also been showcased in “3-year-old human children and tufted capuchin monkeys.”