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Anthropomorphic Interpretations and Ethological Descriptions of Dog and Cat Behavior by Lay People

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Unlike ethologists and veterinarians, lay people supposedly use their own unstructured observations to interpret their companion animals' behavior, often in anthropomorphic terms. Recently, anthropomorphism has evoked new interest amongst scientists as a result of provocative publications concerning "animal mind," that have prompted investigations in the field of cognitive ethology, and much speculation about the emotions of animals. The purpose of the research reported here was to determine the concurrency and plausibility of anthropomorphic interpretations and ethological descriptions of dog and cat behavior and facial expressions, taking into account the observer's experience with the companion animal species. Independent sets of pet owners and non-owners (n=128) were presented with selected still photographs and edited video sequences to interpret, first spontaneously, then in a multiple choice mode. These were programmed on an interactive CD-Rom. Nested ANOVA showed that the choice of different kinds of multiple choice answers was influenced by their level of plausibility, by the personal experience which the people had had with the species, and by the species shown in stills or movie sequences. Scenes which were interpreted with high agreement of over 80% either showed key elements, a consummatory act, or the context in which the behavior took place. They generally represented scenes relevant to the relationship between an owner and an animal. The facial expressions of "fear" and "curiosity" in dog scenes and "stress" in cat scenes were also interpreted with agreement of over 80%.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/089279399787000075

Publication date: December 1, 1999

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