Most emotions are contagious. We know this from experience. If we meet a person who exudes enthusiasm and joy, it is likely that we will end up being infected. But if we come across a person who does nothing but complain, our mood is likely to drop to his level.
This emotional contagion is facilitated by our mirror neurons, which allow us to put ourselves in each other's shoes and feel empathy. In any case, everything seems to indicate that emotional contagion is not exclusive to human beings. A study conducted at the University of Linköping revealed that even our four-legged friends are sensitive to our emotional states, especially stress.
The more stressed you are, the more stressed your pet will be
These researchers analyzed how the lifestyle of people living with dogs affects the stress levels of their four-legged friends. To do this, they recruited 58 dogs and their owners, whose stress levels were measured for several months taking into account the concentration of cortisol, considered the stress hormone par excellence.
The researchers found that the dog and its owner's cortisol levels were synchronized. This shows that people with high cortisol concentrations had dogs that also had high cortisol levels.
But the study went further. People also filled out a questionnaire about their personality traits and a second questionnaire to indicate the character of their pets.
Thus it was found that the personality traits of the owners were related to the level of stress, but there was no link between the character of the dogs and their reactions to stress.
People who were more neurotic, for example, were more likely to suffer from a high level of stress and to infect their dogs. Conversely, people who were more open to experiences reported less stress and their pets were more relaxed.
These data suggest that dogs sense and reflect the stress of their owners.
The social intelligence of dogs: merit and defect
Dogs are very sensitive to human behavior and show a lot of empathy. A study conducted at the University of Otago, for example, revealed that both people and dogs react with an increase in cortisol levels when they hear a newborn cry.
It is likely that this emotional contagion is due to the dogs' enormous social intelligence. This is confirmed by an experiment conducted at the University of Milan which showed that dogs, like small children, use social references to respond to environmental stimuli. This means that when they don't have a response pattern for a new situation - that is, they don't know what to do - they look to their owner for clues as to how to react.
Dogs are not only able to capture our reactions and moods, but they can also regulate their behavior based on these, taking into account small signals - which we often send unknowingly - to decide what to do in new situations.
This special sensitivity to our emotional states has allowed dogs to live in harmony with us, to the point of considering them our "best friends" and part of the family, but it also has a downside as it makes them more vulnerable to damage. our negative emotions, such as stress, which will end up costing you dearly in terms of psychological and physical health.