Nav: Home

Smiling human faces are attractive to dogs -- thanks to oxytocin

November 20, 2017

"It seems that the hormone oxytocin influences what the dog sees and how it experiences the thing it sees," says doctoral student Sanni Somppi.

Researchers in the Canine Mind group showed 43 dogs images of smiling and angry faces on a computer screen. Each dog was tested twice: once under the influence of oxytocin, which was administered as part of the test, and once without oxytocin. The dog's gaze on the images and pupil size were measured with an eye-tracking device. Emotions and attentiveness guide the gaze and regulate pupil size, making eye tracking a window into the dogs' minds.

Dogs typically focus on the most remarkable aspect of each situation, such as threatening stimuli in a frightening situation. Recognising and interpreting threats quickly is important for survival. Dogs under the influence of oxytocin were more interested in smiling faces than they were in angry ones.

In addition, oxytocin also influenced the dogs' emotional states, which was evident in their pupil size.

"We were among the first researchers in the world to use pupil measurements in the evaluation of dogs' emotional states. This method had previously only been used on humans and apes," says Professor Outi Vainio, who heads the research group.

Without oxytocin, the dogs' pupils were at their largest when they looked at angry faces. This indicated that the angry faces caused the most powerful emotional reaction in the dogs. Under the influence of oxytocin, however, images of smiling faces enhanced the dogs' emotional state more than angry ones. This is to say that oxytocin probably made the angry faces seem less threatening and the smiling faces more appealing.

"Both effects promote dog-human communication and the development of affectionate relations," says Professor Vainio.

Professor Vainio's research group has previously successfully applied eye tracking and EEGs to studying the canine mind. In this study, the group partnered with József Topál, a Hungarian pioneer of canine research who specialises in dog-human interaction and the social intelligence of dogs.
-end-
Professor Vainio's research group has previously successfully applied eye tracking and EEGs to studying the canine mind. In this study, the group partnered with József Topál, a Hungarian pioneer of canine research who specialises in dog-human interaction and the social intelligence of dogs.

University of Helsinki

Related Dogs Articles:

Urban dogs are more fearful than their cousins from the country
Inadequate socialisation, inactivity and an urban living environment are associated with social fearfulness in dogs.
Veterinarians: Dogs, too, can experience hearing loss
Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise.
Dogs and wolves are both good at cooperating
A team of researchers have found that dogs and wolves are equally good at cooperating with partners to obtain a reward.
Hidden danger from pet dogs in Africa
Researchers at the Universities of Abuja and Nigeria, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, have detected a potentially human-infective microbe in pet dogs in Nigeria.
How humans have shaped dogs' brains
Dog brain structure varies across breeds and is correlated with specific behaviors, according to new research published in JNeurosci.
Parasitic worms infect dogs, humans
A human infective nematode found in remote northern areas of Australia has been identified in canine carriers for the first time.
Better prognosticating for dogs with mammary tumors
For dogs with mammary tumors, deciding a course of treatment can depend on a variety of factors, some of which may seem to contradict one another.
Dogs mirror owner's stress
The levels of stress in dogs and their owners follow each other, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden.
Sleepovers reduce stress in shelter dogs
Foster care provides valuable information about dog behavior that can help homeless dogs living in shelters find forever homes.
Dogs know when they don't know
In a new study, researchers have shown that dogs possess some 'metacognitive' abilities -- specifically, they are aware of when they do not have enough information to solve a problem and will actively seek more information.
More Dogs News and Dogs Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.