Posts tagged with "Empathy"

All shook up: A dog feels its owner’s stress

June 7, 2019

Dogs don’t just love riding in cars: they come along on our emotional journeys, too. In fact, the levels of stress in dogs correlates with the stress of their owners, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden,  published on June 6 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Previous work has shown that individuals of the same species can mirror each other’s emotional states. There is, for example, a correlation between long-term stress in children and in their mothers.

But scientists also have speculated whether different species also can reflect each other’s tension—such as humans and dogs.  To answer that question, the Swedish researchers tracked stress levels over several months by measuring the concentration of a stress hormone, cortisol, in a few centimeters of hair from the dog and from its owner.

“We found that the levels of long-term cortisol in the dog and its owner were synchronized, such that owners with high cortisol levels have dogs with high cortisol levels, while owners with low cortisol levels have dogs with low levels,” says Ann-Sofie Sundman of the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM) at LiU, as well as principal author of the study and newly promoted doctor of Ethology.

The study examined 25 border collies and 33 Shetland sheepdogs—all of them, owned by women. The owners and the dogs provided hair samples on two occasions, a few months apart.

Since physical activity can increase cortisol levels, the researchers also wanted to compare companion dogs with dogs that competed in obedience or agility. The physical activity levels of the dogs were therefore recorded for a week using an activity collar.

Previous research has shown that levels of short-term cortisol in saliva rise in a synchronous manner in both the dog and its owner when they compete together. The study presented here, in contrast, found that physical activity in dogs does not affect the long-term cortisol in their hair. On the other hand, the stress level of competing dogs seems to be linked more strongly with that of the owner. The scientists speculate that this may be associated with a higher degree of active interaction between the owner and the dog when they train and compete together.

The dog owners were also asked to complete two validated questionnaires related to their own and their dog’s personality. The researchers investigated whether stress levels are correlated with personality traits.

Surprisingly enough, we found no major effect of the dog’s personality on long-term stress. The personality of the owner, on the other hand, had a strong effect. This has led us to suggest that the dog mirrors its owner’s stress,” says senior lecturer Lina Roth, also at IFM, and principal investigator for the study.

The result suggests that the match between an owner and a dog affects the dog’s stress level. Further studies are, however, needed before we can draw any conclusions about the cause of the correlation. The researchers are now planning to study other breeds. Both the border collie and the Shetland sheepdog are herding dogs, which have been bred to collaborate well with humans and respond accurately and quickly to signals.

The research group is planning to investigate whether a similar synchronization takes place between dogs and humans in, for example, hunting dogs, which have been trained to be independent. Another line of research will look at whether the sex of the owner plays a role.

“If we learn more about how different types of dog are influenced by humans, it will be possible to match dog and owner in a way that is better for both, from a stress-management point of view. It may be that certain breeds are not so deeply affected if their owner has a high stress level,” says Lina Roth.

Research contact: @liu_universitet

Just you wait: How to curb impatience

November 13, 2018

A woman in front of you on the checkout line actually is writing a check and digging in her bag for the required IDs. You clench your jaw. A driver stopped at the entrance to the parking garage cannot dislodge a ticket from the machine. You check your watch and hit your horn. A colleague is at the photocopier, carefully removing and replacing paper clips from documents, as she plows through large piles of materials. You consider asking if you can just cut in front for one image.

If these scenarios seems familiar, you are not alone. Impatience has reached epidemic proportions in America and we see signs of it everywhere—as bad manners, road rage, parking lot meltdowns, and more.

According to a November 5 report by The New York Times, patience is “the ability to keep calm in the face of disappointment, distress or suffering.”

Easier said than done, we know. But if you can master the skill, you’ll be rewarded with a variety of positive health outcomes, such as reducing depression and other negative emotions.

Researchers also have concluded, the Times reports, that patient people exhibit more “prosocial” behaviors—including empathy—and are more likely to display generosity and compassion.

A study conducted in 2012 by Sarah Schnitker—who was, at that time, an associate professor in the Thrive Center for Human Development at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California—identified three situations in which subject expressed patience: 1. Interpersonal, which is maintaining calm when dealing with someone who is upset, angry, or being a pest. 2. Life hardships, which is finding the silver lining after a serious setback. 3. Daily hassles, which is suppressing annoyance at delays or anything irritating that would inspire a snarky tweet.

However, even if none of these is in your own personal repertory yet; the good news, the Times reported, is that same study found that, even if you’re not a particularly patient person today, there’s still hope you can be a more patient person tomorrow.

So if you find yourself getting exasperated more than you’d like, here are ways to keep those testy impulses in check:

  • Identify your trigger(s): Figure out which situations set you off — careless drivers, technological glitches, slow-moving cashiers,— and you’re already on your way to taking control.
  • Interrupt the cycle and evaluate the risk: The idea is to take a step back from the situation and try to look at it objectively. Are you really in such a rush? What’s the actual consequence of standing in line another 10 minutes or restarting a finicky device? Do any of these outcomes constitute a life-or-death threat? The answer is almost always “no.”
  • Reframe the experience and connect it to a larger story: Are you annoyed with the coworker at the photocopy machine? Instead of dwelling on your irritation, you could think about the times when you have been the one who has frustrated others.

Another strategy recommended by Schnitker in an interview with the Times is to focus on why and how patience is integral to your values. “For instance,” she said, “if I were talking to a parent who is struggling with their kid, I’d say, ‘Well, first, let’s think about the really big picture: Why is being a parent an important role to you? What does that mean in your life?’”

Thinking about how patience ties into your larger sense of integrity and poise “will make it a whole lot easier to stick with practicing patience on a daily basis and building up those skills,” she added.

The most common mistake people make is thinking sheer will can turn them into a more patient person,  Schnitker said. If you do that, she cautions, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Just as marathon runners don’t run a marathon on their first day of hitting the trails, people who are serious about cultivating patience shouldn’t expect immediate results.“You want to train, not try, for patience,” she said. “It’s important to do it habitually.”

Finally, recognizing your own triggers may help you to make remedial lifestyle changes. For example, if you detest being stuck in traffic, leave for appointments earlier. If you abhor crowded grocery stores, run your errands at off-hours.

Research contact: @AnnaGoldfarb