Always Look on the Bright Side Of Life…

At a meeting we were discussing dogs being either pessimistic or optimistic, introvert or extrovert.

Someone suggested that the two things go hand in hand (paw in paw). Would the introvert dog be more likely to be pessimistic and the extrovert more of an optimist?

Paddy

There were two dogs in the room with us. Paddy, a Springer Spaniel, was a bundle of happiness, running around constantly, giving and receiving love and having fun.

Maisie was a larger dog of mixed breed. She had been found dumped by the road and in a terrible state as a young puppy. She understandably was less trusting – more uncertain around people anyway.

You can see here how Maisie was very suspicious of a stuffed dog, whereas Paddy sniffed it once and went waggingly back to interacting with all the people!

These two dogs were poles apart. The Springer, a real extrovert around people, looks like he’d be a lot more likely to expect the best from things life throws at him, certainly in the context of a hall full of people, than would Maisie.

An article I have just read by Linda P. Case in The Science Dog suggests that we all, whether optimists or not, suffer from a negativity bias. It would stand to reason that a negativity bias would be even greater in a pessimist than an optimist.

Case says, ‘This is the phenomenon in which we naturally pay more attention to and give more weight to negative information and experiences compared with those that are positive. It is this particular cognitive bias that causes us to be more hurt or discouraged by insults or criticism than we are pleased or encouraged by compliments and shining reviews.

‘Research studies have shown that the human brain actually experiences stronger neural activity when reacting to negative information compared with when we are given positive information. As a result unpleasant experiences are inevitably more memorable to us than are pleasurable ones’.

This resonates very strongly with me.

What about our dogs?

The *researchers were actually studying emotional contagion in dogs and in the process discovered that dogs paid more attention to negative information than to positive information. When they heard sounds of either a human crying or a dog whining, the dogs showed more signs of stress and arousal than when they listened to positive vocalizations from either a human or another dog.

I wonder which dog would be more empathetic to our feelings though. Paddy, our extrovert, sociable Spaniel, or the cautious Maisie?

I would say I myself am on the optimistic side side of things. However, the effect of one email in the morning from a client who is struggling will instantly wipe out any ‘feel-good’ effect of ten happy emails reporting good progress.

Almost subconsciously I then carry this negative feeling around with me for some time.

What does just one angry shout at our dog or one use of force or punishment do to our dogs’ state of mind? Will not an introverted dog, already pessimistic and possibly more ‘difficult’ or fearful be a lot more affected by punishment than the more resilient optimist?

A couple more thoughts…..

We know one critical word in the world of cyber-bullying can overwhelm an impressionable teenager.

Some people actually seem to enjoy being pessimistic and miserable, whilst people being constantly optimistic can sometimes be a bit annoying!

Remember Monty Python’s classic ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life‘?

I have this song now as an earworm and it’s driving me mad! Play it at your peril.

PS. Dogs, like us, are a mix of all sorts of things. I myself am not too keen on the idea of categorising them with labels but was picking up on discussion and an article. It also depends upon context. Paddy is much more noise-sensitive which probably suggests pessimism of some sort, but in the context of a room full of people he’s an extrovert socialite!
*Huber A, Barber ALA, Farago T, Muller CA, Huber L. Investigating emotional contagion in dogs (Canis familiaris) to emotional sounds of humans and conspecifics. Animal Cognition 2017′ 20:703-715.
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About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist (INTODogs - ICAN Companion Animal Behaviourist) and trainer covering Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks, a 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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One Response to Always Look on the Bright Side Of Life…

  1. Pingback: Paws for Thought: Always Look on the Bright Side Of Life… | Paws for Thought

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