Università degli Studi di Milano, 2015-11-19

Background: empathy has been defined as a vicarious affective response that arises from attending another individual’s emotional experience and is more appropriate to another’s situation than one’s own. It is a complex and multidimensional psychological process, which involves both emotional and cognitive components: the former refers to affective resonance with others’ emotions and the generation of an appropriate emotional response, while the latter includes abilities such as recognizing and understanding another’s emotions distinguishing between self and others, and perspective taking. Empathy has also visible effects on behaviour, leading either to prosocial behaviour, namely the effort to alleviate the distress of the others and to promote their welfare, or to defensive behaviours and strategies of affective control due to an excessive personal distress. Although empathy towards humans has been extensively studied, only a few studies have focused on empathy towards non-human animals, which is considered as a psychological side effect of empathy towards people, triggered by animal signals or behaviour that resemble those that elicit empathy among humans. There is evidence that empathy towards humans is related to important social skills, such as emotion recognition and prosocial behaviour, therefore empathy is regarded as an important aspect not only in daily social interactions but also in caring professions; in particular, the relevance of empathy as a professional skill has been extensively studied and underlined in human health professionals, with studies proving a decline in empathy towards people during medical education. Furthermore, given the relevance of empathy towards people, its impairment is considered a sign of psychopathology and characterizes a number of mental disorders such as antisocial, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders and autism spectrum disorders. Although some studies have suggested that empathy towards animals may be related to the way in which people interpret animal behaviour and it may be influenced by particular job and educational contexts and mental disorders, these themes are still understudied. Yet, a deepen analysis of these issues could have important consequences both for animal and human welfare: in particular, recognition of animal emotions is crucial for their well-being and, as in human health professions, empathy towards animals may be central to the role of veterinarians, especially in companion animal practice. Furthermore, the new edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders includes the animal hoarding disorder, which is a poorly understood mental disease, likely related to empathy towards animals. Aim of the project: the main aim of this work is to investigate three important and little studied aspects of empathy towards non-human animals, namely: 1. its relation to animal emotion recognition, 2. its status in and the way in which it may be affected by veterinary education and practice and 3. its potential role in animal hoarding disorder. Moreover, since a condition to feel empathy towards animals is their ability to feel emotions, I have also briefly reviewed the scientific literature on animal emotions, which evidences the need to combine behavioural and physiological indexes to study them. Therefore, I carried out two studies aimed at investigating the possibility to use novel and non-invasive tools to study animal emotions, along with behavioural and traditional physiological measures. The dog (Canis familiaris) has been chosen as a model both for studying animal emotions and human ability to recognize them, since this species has a long history of domestication, lives in strict contact with humans and its ability to emotionally communicate with them has been widely proved. Results: six studies and one book I have co-authored are presented in this dissertation, which are the results of the work carried out in the last three years at the Canis sapiens – Comparative cognition & Human- Animal Interaction – Lab of the University of Milan (Department of Physiopathology and Transplantation, section of Neuroscience). These studies cover three major themes, which are described in three different chapters, following an introductive section. Three studies and the book have already been published, while the others are in press or have been submitted to international scientific journals. Chapter 1: Introduction - An overview of human empathy towards humans and other animals. The chapter offers an overview of the concept of empathy and the results of the main studies carried out on empathy towards humans and towards animals. Given the importance of empathy towards people in recognizing human emotions and in predicting prosocial behaviour towards conspecifics, the importance of studying empathy towards animals in order to improve both animal and human welfare is discussed, with particular interest for its potential role in animal emotion recognition, veterinary medicine and animal hoarding disorder. Chapter 2: Recognizing emotions in non-human animals. This chapter reviews the scientific evidence about the ability of non-human animals, at least mammals, to feel a number of basic emotions, such as happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. Furthermore findings about human ability to recognize animal emotions are discussed, underlining the lack of consistent evidence of human ability to recognize animal visual emotional signals, such as body postures and facial expressions. A brief section examines the suitability of the dog (Canis familiaris) as a model for studying both animal emotions recognition and animal emotions, discussing also the validity of behavioural clues alone to assess dog emotions, evidencing the need to find more reliable and objective tools. Finally I present my research activity in this area. - Study 1: “Expertise, empathy, gender and the recognition of dog (Canis familiaris) emotional facial expressions”. This work investigated the relation between expertise, empathy and gender and accuracy in the recognition of dog emotional facial expressions. A group of experts (veterinary behaviourists and dog trainers) and 3 groups of participants differing in their experience with dogs (veterinarians, dog owners and people who had never owned a dog) classified 21 photographs of a dog’s facial expressions, realized under standardized and behaviourally defined conditions aimed at activating in the dog the six basic emotions already described in humans (i.e., happiness, surprise, sadness, fear, anger and disgust). We found that experts in dog behaviour were not particularly accurate in identifying the dog’s emotional states and correctly recognized only a limited number of the dog’s emotions. Interestingly we also found a clear effect of the level of expertise on the recognition of some of the dog’s expressions, but we didn’t find any effect of empathy or gender, suggesting an experience-dependent mechanism at the basis of inter-specific emotion recognition from facial expressions. The possibility that some antecedent stimuli used to elicit emotions in the dog could not be fully appropriate and that the photographs we used lacked ecological validity were also discussed. - Study 2: “Hot dogs”: Thermography in the assessment of stress in dogs (Canis familiaris) - A pilot study. This study evaluated for the first time the usefulness of Infra-Red Thermography (IRT) to assess dogs’ emotional responses to an unpleasant and stressful event. A sample of 14 healthy adult dogs was observed during a standardized veterinary examination, carried out by an unfamiliar veterinarian in the presence of their owners. The dogs’ behaviours and eye temperatures were recorded before the start of the veterinary visit, during, and after the clinical examination. Interestingly, the dogs showed an increase in eye temperature during the examination phase compared with both pre- examination and post-examination phases, despite a concomitant significant decrease in their level of activity. Results suggested that IRT may represent a useful tool to investigate emotional psychogenic stress in dogs. - Study 3: “How good is this food? A study on dogs’ emotional responses to a potentially pleasant event using Infra-Red Thermography”. In this study, IRT was used in combination with behavioural measures, heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) to investigate dogs’ emotional responses to a potentially pleasant event: receiving highly palatable treats from the owner. Nineteen adult pet dogs, 8 females and 11 males, were tested and their eye temperature, heart rate, heart rate variability and behaviour were recorded during a 30 minutes test consisting of three 10 min consecutive phases: Phase 1 (Baseline), Phase 2 (Feeding), namely positive stimulation through the administration of palatable treats and Phase 3 (Post-feeding) following the positive stimulation. The dogs’ eye temperature and mean HR significantly increased during the positive stimulation (Phase 2) compared with both Baseline and Post-feeding phases, despite a concomitant significant decrease in dogs’ level of activity. During the stimulation with food, the dogs engaged in behaviours indicating a positive emotional state, such as being focused on the treats and showing an increase in tail wagging. However, HRV increased only in Phase 3, after the positive stimulation occurred. Overall results pointed out that IRT may be a useful tool in assessing emotional states in dogs in terms of arousal but fails to discriminate emotional valence, whose interpretation cannot disregard behavioural indexes. The role of HRV in understanding emotional valence and the actual emotional meaning of food treats were also discussed. Chapter 3: Exploring the field of veterinary medicine: the importance of empathy towards animals. Thi

diritti: info:eu-repo/semantics/openAccess
tutor: E. Prato-Previde Albrisi Colombani ; coordinatore: R.L. Weinstein
Settore M-PSI/01 - - Psicologia Generale

Tesi di dottorato. | Lingua: Inglese. | Paese: | BID: TD16002135