Editors' ChoiceEvolutionary Cognition

They can smell your fear

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Science  03 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6363, pp. 605-606
DOI: 10.1126/science.358.6363.605-d

Dogs can detect human emotion from smell alone.


It is often said that dogs can “smell fear,” but the majority of research into communication between dogs and humans has focused on gestures, words, and facial expressions. Olfaction has tended to be overlooked, despite dogs' well-known olfactory capabilities. To explore smell discrimination in more detail, D'Aniello et al. tested pet dogs by exposing them to underarm secretions from humans who had experienced happy or fearful stimuli. Dogs exposed to fearful secretions were less likely to approach an unknown human and displayed elevated heart rates. In contrast, dogs exposed to happy secretions were more exploratory, approaching the stranger, and had heart rates similar to those shown in control conditions. The results indicate that the dogs are detecting emotion by smell and support the conclusion that communication between humans and dogs has an olfactory component.

Anim. Cogn. 10.1007/s10071-017-1139-x (2017).

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