Wednesday, August 3, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Brianna Artz

Hello! I’m Brianna Artz, and I am a senior, majoring in Psychology, working on independent research funded through Oscar’s Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. My research is mentored by Dr. Doris Bitler Davis, and I’m a member of the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab. Her lab has tons of awesome research going on involving the behavior and cognition of goats, dogs, cats, chickens and other avian species.
            My study is looking at the response behavior of canines when presented with the emotions of their owner, and a stranger. Due to the generous funding of the URSP grant, I have been able to pay participants to bring themselves and their dogs to the lab in Catlett, Virginia, and test their dog’s emotion recognition abilities using a short maze which creates a two-path choice paradigm. Before arriving for their study sessions, the owner completes a survey which provides information about the dog’s age, breed, level of training, amount of socialization, and overall personality. During the study, the dogs enter the maze area with me, where I facilitate their observations of their owner holding a treat and expressing positive emotion on one side of the maze, and negative emotion on the other side. The owner then hides, and I allow the dog to choose a side of the maze. This process is repeated four times with the dog’s owner, alternating the side where each emotion is expressed. The owner then leaves the testing area, and the whole process is then repeated with a female stranger’s emotions.
            Using the data collected from the survey and the emotion recognition procedure, I hope to analyze how the dog’s age, breed, level of training, amount of socialization, and overall personality correlates with the dog’s emotional response behavior in the maze. I hope that our results can provide new insight into the emotional response behavior of certain dogs, and why some dogs are better than others at doing it. Our findings could potentially be applied to the use of emotional support service dogs, animal-assisted therapy in psychological or psychiatric care, and expand on our current knowledge of the symbiotic and emotional relationships human beings have with dogs.