Dogs Mimic the Expressions of Other Dogs, Study Shows

If you’ve ever found smiling to be contagious, here’s good news. It means you’re compassionate.

The tendency of humans (and some primates) to copy another’s facial expressions momentarily is an involuntary phenomenon scientists call rapid mimicry, Smithsonian explains, and it’s one sign of our ability to feel empathy.

But researchers now believe dogs also experience rapid mimicry when with other dogs. This finding, which was published this week in Royal Society Open Science, comes on the heels of another small study that found dogs may be self-aware (another sign scientists use to determine the potential for empathetic emotions). A 2013 study cited by the researchers also claimed that dogs share “yawn contagion” with humans, another marker for empathy.

Evolutionary biologist Elisabetta Palagi, of the University of Pisa in Italy, found that dogs mimic certain play behaviors, including “relaxed open-mouth” and the play bow, they see in other canines. They studied 49 dogs in 200 play sessions and found that 77 percent of dogs did in fact display rapid mimicry. Interestingly, the researchers noted that the dogs who were already friends mimicked each other more often than dogs who were just acquaintances. Dogs who were meeting for the first time mimicked the least.

“We found a gradient of rapid social mimicry according to the familiarity of dogs,” Palagi said. “Like humans, dogs are affected more by their friends.”

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