Smiling when others smile, or take a displeased expression when the interlocutor is sad, is a behavior that comes naturally to us, and that demonstrates the ability to feel empathy for the emotions of others.

According to research by the University of Pisa in collaboration with the Natural History Museum in London, even dogs can copy, in a fraction of a second and therefore in a natural and involuntary manner, the mimicry of the muzzle and the movements of their fellows. An ability that could demonstrate a form of empathy and recognition of the mood of others, and that until now had been observed only in humans and other primates, such as orangutans and chimpanzees.

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cement friendships. The involuntary behavior that leads us to imitate the laughter or smiles of others is considered the basis of the capacity for social cohesion, what experts call social bonding. The study of the empathic abilities of dogs has focused, so far, on their relationship with man: but the new research sheds light on their ability to understand and share the emotions of their peers, a skill that they may have learned in the process of domestication.

Without thinking. The researchers analyzed 50 hours of footage of playful interactions between dogs in a park in Palermo. In particular they have focused attention on the bodily signals that dogs send when they play, such as bending over on their front legs or relaxing their jaw showing their teeth.

The videos revealed that dogs can imitate - in a fraction of a second - a sort of reflex, not learned - the expression of the nose of their playmates, or their way of moving. An attitude that could hide even more complex empathic abilities.

When it started? Further studies to be carried out on wolves will clarify whether this behavior is related to domestication by humans. For other scientists, the canine ability to imitate the expressions of others could instead depend on the fact that, behaving like the compare, the game goes on longer. In short, the reflex, even if automatic, would not necessarily imply the ability to understand the superior processes of thought of other dogs.