Julia Manor’s research focuses on empathy in dogs, humans

A research path for Julia Manor, associate professor of psychology, evolved during a light-hearted playtime. Manor had been playing with her children, who buried her in a pile of pillows. Manor called her husband for help, but the only one who came was her trusty collie. That sparked the idea of a way to test empathy in dogs.

Manor has been researching empathy since 2013 and empathy in dogs since 2016. Her inspiration for studying empathy was a research paper on rat empathy she read 10 years ago. Manor wanted to try to replicate the study, however she had a challenging time getting the rats to express different emotional states.

Manor then got the idea of using dogs instead of rats. She looked into the work of other dog researchers Alexandra Horowitz and Clive Wynne. Wynne studies issues such as problem behaviors, dogs and their relatives and welfare in shelters. Horowitz researches and writes best-selling works about the perceptual world experience of dogs.

After Manor’s research started getting attention from the public, she says, “I had a number of people email me telling me about how their dog or cat rescued them from a fire or warned them of danger. It was amazing how much my research touched people and encouraged them to share their stories.”

Manor continues to study dog empathy and behavior, creating new variations of research on the same questions. She is widely cited as an expert on dog cognition, most recently in an article published this summer by Scientific American.

Many of her experiments are carried out with the assistance of Ripon College students. During this summer’s Summer Opportunities for Advanced Research (SOAR), she worked with Kalyn Otzelberger ’24 of Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Jacoby Cefalu ’25 of Hartland, Wisconsin, along with lab volunteer Jake Hargrave ’25 of Markesan, Wisconsin, and Associate Professor of Psychology Kristine Kovack-Lesh, to study both empathy in dogs and empathy in children.

“Animal research is important both for what it tells us about animals and what it tells us about humans,” Manor says. “Understanding whether dogs show empathy can tell us whether this is something that is more genetic or learned. It also can help us understand if there are certain characteristics that would make a good service or therapy dog.”

Mia Bekish ’25
Sherwood, Wisconsin

(Photo: Jacoby Cefalu ’25, left, Jake Hargrave ’25, Kalyn Otzelberger ’24 and Assistant Professor of Psychology Julia Manor observe a canine friend)

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