Emotional Communication Dog – Human / V. KONOK


Like most humans, I tried using words to communicate with my dogs. Then I tried the “growls” that wolves use to communicate to pups and each other. What a difference!

Emotional communication between dogs and humans

Veronika Konok / Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary 2014

Although emotions are commonly studied in psychology, there is still confusion even in the definition of emotion and there are many competing theories regarding e.g. the components, the function or the emergence of emotion. In 1981 Kleinginna and Kleinginna collected 92 definitions from the literature, and even when they classified them on the basis of the emotional phenomena or the theoretical issue they emphasized, they got 11 different categories. This confusion may partly be attributed to the fact that researchers have focused on different components of the emotional reaction such as expression, behavior or physiology. Perhaps the complexity of the phenomenon which the former facts illustrate makes the definition and the modeling of emotion such difficult.

If we look at the word’s etymology we see that the term “emotion” dates back to 1579, when it was adapted from the French word émouvoir (“to stir up”). However, synonyms of the word likely date back to the very origins of language (Merriam-Webster, 2004).

Emotions were the subject of reflections of not lesser philosophers than Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza or Hume. From the perspective of natural science, and ethology, the most important early impact has to be assigned to Darwin. Due to him emotions became no longer seen as dysfunctional, in the sense as something to reject or control (as some philosophers thought, e.g. Plato or Hume), but instead as something being functional and essential for survival (Kappas, 2002). He stated that signals in humans and animals are reflections of their internal state, and he also put an emphasis on the social and communicative function of emotions (Darwin, 1872).

In psychology, after famous debates whether emotion or the physiological arousal is the first (James-Lange vs. Cannon-Bard theories; James, 1890; Lange, 1885; Cannon, 1929, 1931), or whether emotions are results of a cognitive evaluation of general physiological arousal (e.g. Schacter and Singer, 1962) or they have distinctive autonomic patterns (e.g. Alexander, 1950), today a more or less general consensus is formed that emotion is a complex phenomenon (an umbrella concept) consisting of more components: expressive behavior, cognition, autonomic nervous system activity and subjective experience (e.g. Scherer, 1984; Panskepp, 2005; Plutchik, 2001).

Note that in a previous post about the Asperger inability to describe our ’emotions’ using words (reactions to the environment) (the blank phenomenon) that I stated my opinion that “emotion words” EXIST as a social tool that teaches children to suppress, ignore and transform raw physiological reactions (normal) to the environment and suppress innate survival mechanisms. Basic impulses (fight or flight) are labeled and defused by using THOUSANDS of supposed “social emotions” to transform the child’s true reactions. This carries over into adulthood – people BELIEVE that words like cheerful, eager, and emotionally supportive are “naming” actual physiology; they don’t. These are social qualities with “feelings attached” in order to promote social behavior.

One obvious use of this “word control” is to convert healthy self-preservation into “emotions” called shame, self-hatred, guilt, and by these to threaten abandonment.  How often do we hear, “Nice little boys don’t fight back; no one wants to be friends with a boy who hits other children” and “Nice little girls don’t use ‘bad words’ and never get angry with anyone.”

The reason that Aspergers have trouble describing “our reactions”  (emotions) using word descriptions is not that we don’t “feel” but that we are not socialized: emotion words are ALIEN to us precisely because these are socially constructed “states of belief.”

1.2 A suitable definition

We chose Izard’s definition of emotion because it emphasizes many aspects of emotions that we will discuss in the following sections. Firstly, it mirrors the functional-evolutionary approach of emotion, secondly, it could be applied to animals and humans as well, and finally, it emphasizes the complexity of the phenomenon (different components): „emotions are specific neuropsychological phenomena, shaped by natural selection, that organize and motivate physiological, cognitive, and action patterns that facilitate adaptive responses to the vast array of demands and opportunities in the environment” (Izard, 1992, p561).

This is a 150 page PDF with “oodles” of specific data!



How do humans represent the emotions of dogs? The resemblance between the human representation of the canine and the human affective space



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