Like Me: The evolutionary and neuro-cognitive basis of the link between imitation, empathy and prosocial behaviour in dogs and humans

Period: April 2012 - April 2015

Principal investigator(s):

  • Univ.-Prof. Ludwig Huber (Messerli - Research Institute, Vetmeduni Vienna)
  • Univ.-Prof. Claus Lamm

Funding program: WWTF "Cognition" 2011

Involved fields: Cognitive Biology, Psychology


This project addressed one of the most enduring and crucial problems in cognitive science: what is the relationship between cognition and emotion? Two recent discoveries have contributed to this question: cognitive scientist have revealed that imitation, emotion understanding and empathy are tightly linked, and social psychologists found that peoples’ tendency to inadvertently copy each other’s gestures facilitates social interaction. This project aimed at resolving three open questions, with respect to the ultimate (evolutionary) and proximate (neurocognitive) mechanisms mediating these relationships. These questions were multi-level in nature and therefore required interdisciplinary approaches and complementary expertise. Bringing together a team of leading European experts, we conducted behavioral experiments on dogs and behavioral and neuroscientific ones in humans. The project resulted in major insights in understanding the mechanisms that enable the establishment and maintenance of cooperation and well-being, with considerable societal and ethical relevance.

Selected Publications:

  • Barber, A.L.A., Randi, D., Müller, C.A., & Huber, L. (2016). The processing of human emotional faces by pet and lab dogs: evidence for lateralization and experience effects. PLoS One 11(4): e0152393.
  • Majdandžić, J., Amashaufer S., Hummer, A., Windischberger, C., & Lamm, C. (2016). The selfless mind: How prefrontal involvement in mentalizing with similar and dissimilar others shapes empathy and prosocial behavior. Cognition 157, 24-38. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2016.08.003
  • Rauchbauer, B., Majdandžić, J., Stieger, S., Lamm, C. (2016). The modulation of mimicry by social group-membership and emotional expressions. PLoS ONE, 11(8): e0161064.
  • Müller, C.A., Schmitt, K., Barber, A.L.A., & Huber, L. (2015). Dogs can discriminate emotional expressions of human faces. Current Biology 25 (5): 601-605.
  • Rauchbauer, B., Majdandžić, J., Hummer, A., Windischberger, C., & Lamm, C. (2015). Distinct neural processes are engaged in the modulation of mimicry by social group-membership and emotional expressions. Cortex, 70, 49-67.doi:

Under Review

  • Rauchbauer, B. & Pfabigan, D., Lamm., C. (2016). Temporal neural dynamics of automatic imitation and its modulation by ethnically diverse stimuli - an event-related potentials study.
  • Majdandžić, J., Rauchbauer, B., Gerger, G., Maksimova, M., Chromec, J., Huber-Huber, C., and Lamm, C. (2016). Mirorring moves: Movement congruency, not mere temporal contingency in imitation enhances empathy and prosocial behaviour.


  • Huber, A., Barber, A.L.A., Müller, C.A., Farago, T. & Huber, L. (2016). Empathic-like responding in dogs to emotional sounds of humans and conspecifics. Animal Cognition.

In Prep

  • Barber, A.L.A., Müller, E.M., Müller, C.A., & Huber, L. (2016). Heart rate in pet and lab dogs during exposure to human facial expressions.
  • Barber, A.L.A., & Huber, L. (2016). Lateralization processes in processing of human mirrored faces by dogs.
  • Barber, A.L.A., Einheimler, P., Karl, S., & Huber, L. (2016). Discrimination of human faces by pet dogs – Effects of the visibility of facial parts and emotional expression.

Univ.-Prof. Ludwig Huber

Univ.-Prof. Claus Lamm