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  • Science and technology.


    Animal cognition


    Man's best friend


    Can dogs really show empathy towards humans?


    DOGS quickly become part of the family. Tales abound1 of dogs celebrating joy in a household or commiserating2 when tragedy strikes. This may not seem surprising after 15,000 years of co-evolution. But what hard evidence is there of dogs' empathy with humans? A new experiment suggests that behind all the waggy tails there really is something deeper going on.


    Past experiments have hinted that animals can feel sympathy. Rats and monkeys had been found to forgo4 food to avoid delivering electric shocks to relatives. Similarly, apes have recently been documented consoling one another after conflicts. However, all these experiments and observations were demonstrating an animal's sensitivity to distress5 in other members of the same species. Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer of Goldsmiths College, London, set out to see if dogs could detect the emotional state of humans.


    To do this, Dr Custance and Ms Mayer conducted an experiment to study the response of dogs when a nearby human suddenly began to cry. The researchers knew that interpreting responses would be difficult, since dogs tend to whine6, nuzzle, lick, lay their heads in laps and fetch toys for people in distress. Although such actions hint3 at a dog wishing to offer comfort, they could also be signs of curiosity, or suggest that a dog is simply distressed7 by seeing its master upset.


    To work round this, the researchers presented 18 dogs of various breeds with four separate 20-second conditions. They included their owner crying, a stranger crying and both taking it in turns to hum "Mary had a little lamb". All four of these conditions were preceded by two minutes of mundane8 conversation between Ms Mayer, who filled the role of the stranger, and the dog's owner.


    Dr Custance and Ms Mayer suspected that if exposure to crying led dogs to feel distress, then regardless of who was crying, the dog would go to their master to seek comfort. They also theorised that if curiosity, rather than empathy, was the driving force, then the humming would cause dogs to engage with people.


    As they report in Animal Cognition, "person-oriented behaviour" did sometimes take place when either the stranger or the owner hummed, but it was more than twice as likely to occur if someone was crying. This indicated that dogs were differentiating9 between odd behaviour and crying. And of the 15 dogs in the experiment that showed person-oriented responses when the stranger cried, all of them directed their attention towards the stranger rather than their owner.


    These discoveries suggest that dogs do have the ability to express empathetic concern. But although the results are clear enough, Dr Custance argues that more work needs to be done to be sure that such behaviour is true empathy. It is possible, she points out, that the dogs were drawing on previous experiences in which they were rewarded for approaching distressed human companions. Dog-owners, however, are unlikely to need any more convincing.


     9级    英文科普 


    1 abound [əˈbaʊnd] wykz4   第7级
    • Oranges abound here all the year round. 这里一年到头都有很多橙子。
    • But problems abound in the management of State-owned companies. 但是在国有企业的管理中仍然存在不少问题。
    2 commiserating [kəˈmɪzəˌreɪtɪŋ] 12d63a0fa2e7608963e8c369956f1a5d   第10级
    v.怜悯,同情( commiserate的现在分词 )
    • Tigress, far from commiserating, offered her a loan (repayable later on) to make herself more presentable. 虎妞不但不安慰小福子,反倒愿意帮她的忙:虎妞愿意拿出点资本,教她打扮齐整,挣来钱再还给她。 来自汉英文学 - 骆驼祥子
    • Were they commiserating or comparing notes? 他们是在同病相怜还是在合对口供? 来自电影对白
    3 hint [hɪnt] IdgxW   第7级
    • He gave me a hint that I was being cheated. 他暗示我在受人欺骗。
    • He quickly took the hint. 一点他就明白了。
    4 forgo [fɔ:'ɡəʊ] Dinxf   第12级
    • Time to prepare was a luxuary, he would have to forgo. 因为时间不够,他不得不放弃做准备工作。
    • She would willingly forgo a birthday treat if only her warring parents would declare a truce. 只要她的父母停止争吵,她愿意放弃生日宴请。
    5 distress [dɪˈstres] 3llzX   第7级
    • Nothing could alleviate his distress. 什么都不能减轻他的痛苦。
    • Please don't distress yourself. 请你不要忧愁了。
    6 whine [waɪn] VMNzc   第11级
    • You are getting paid to think, not to whine. 支付给你工资是让你思考而不是哀怨的。
    • The bullet hit a rock and rocketed with a sharp whine. 子弹打在一块岩石上, 一声尖厉的呼啸,跳飞开去。
    7 distressed [dis'trest] du1z3y   第7级
    • He was too distressed and confused to answer their questions. 他非常苦恼而困惑,无法回答他们的问题。
    • The news of his death distressed us greatly. 他逝世的消息使我们极为悲痛。
    8 mundane [mʌnˈdeɪn] F6NzJ   第9级
    • I hope I can get an interesting job and not something mundane. 我希望我可以得到的是一份有趣的工作,而不是一份平凡无奇的。
    • I find it humorous sometimes that even the most mundane occurrences can have an impact on our awareness. 我发现生活有时挺诙谐的,即使是最平凡的事情也能影响我们的感知。
    9 differentiating [ˌdifəˈrenʃieitɪŋ] d3096d547199751d1b8d0cb8d931d402   第7级
    [计] 微分的
    • They succeed in differentiating the most commodity-like products. 在最通用的日用产品方面,它们也能独树一帜标新立异。
    • The simplest and most effective method of differentiating areas is to use different colours. 区别面状要素最简单而又行之有效的办法,是使用不同的颜色。

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