Behavioural Manifestations of Cerebral Lateralization in Dogs in Emotional Contexts


This subproject of EMOMETER aims to shed light on our dogs emotional lives. Dogs, alike humans, have emotions and they are able to process and most likely even “understand” emotional expressions of their human caregivers. Still, research on how dogs process and express emotions is still in its infancy and there is accumulated need in understanding dogs’ emotions in order to safeguard their welfare.

On potential non-invasive measure to gather a better understanding of dogs’ emotional lives could be lateralization processes.

All mammals have two brain hemispheres that are specialised for different processes in order to speed up information processing and reaction. In humans for example, analytical and logical skills as well as language are processed predominantly in the left brain half, while “creative” skills, faces and emotions are predominantly processed in the right brain half. Of course it is not that simple and not that black and white, but this might give a hint of what we are talking about here. Anyway, even we know a lot about how human brains are functioning, we do not know a lot about such processes in dogs.

Lets dive a bit more into lateralized emotion processing: Even though stated above that emotions are predominantly processed in the right brain half, there is also some hint that this also depend on the valence of the stimuli, i.e. the right brain half is active when processing “positive” emotions and the left brain half is more active when processing “negative” emotions. Such lateralized activation will subsequently results into lateralized behavioural expression.

One example of such an unconcious process in humans: When seeing another person, you will most likely look at that person face and facial expression in order to gather some important information of your counterpart. Interestingly and a unconciously you will most likely monitor predominantly one half of the persons’ face but this preference will vary depending on the facial expression of your counterpart, i.e. it is likely that you look at the other left side of the face when s/he is expressing a happy face but you might look at the others right side of the face when s/he is looking angry. And here a spoiler: This is also true for dogs, when looking at human faces.

Given that dogs express behaviour lateralized when processing stimuli of emotional relevance this project, conducted by PhD candidate Tim Simon, aims to identify and investigate other possible behavioural markers (aside preferential looking) to measure emotional activition in dogs. Targeted behaviours are for example motor activites important for dogs body language like tail wagging or ear movements as well as facial expressions of the dog. Further we are interested in the multimodal integration of emotionally relevant stimuli i.e. we will look at how visual and auditory stimuli are processed and which of those is more salient to the dog.