Research conducted by Dr Lauren Humby from the University of Southern Queensland is among the first to explore whether man’s best friend can improve prisoners’ emotional intelligence.
According to Dr Humby, inmates who are dogged by their pasts are often at a higher risk of re-offending after they are released from prison.
“Australia’s prison population is rising,” Dr Humby said.
“Nearly 60 per cent of people who are incarcerated have been previously imprisoned, so we need to find better ways to rehabilitate them.”
“Research has shown offenders often have lower emotional intelligence than the general population,” Dr Humby said.
“Prisoners’ often lack awareness of themselves and others and can struggle to appropriately identify and respond to their own, and others, emotions.”
According to Dr Humby, humans process dog and human facial cues in similar ways.
“Therefore, learning to read the behavioural cues of dogs could help inmates better recognise and process emotions in people, and ultimately reduce their risk of re-offending in the future.”
Dr Humby visited three prisons as part of preliminary research, where inmates were shown a collection of images of dogs exhibiting different behaviours and were asked to describe each dog’s emotion: happy, sad, scared or angry.
Preliminary findings suggest that through dogs, prisoners may be able to learn how to identify and respond more appropriately to emotional prompts.
“Many of the inmates likened the behaviour to their own children,” Dr Humby said.
“One man told me he has now become a better parent because he understands his child’s needs more.”
Learn more about Dr Humby’s ongoing research during her seminar presentation, Improving Prisoners’ Emotional Intelligence with Dogs, on Wednesday.