Eye con­tact helped dogs be­come our friends: study

The China Post - - LIFE -

The se­cret to puppy love is in the eyes, re­searchers said Thurs­day af­ter study­ing how that lock­ing gaze boosts the love hor­mone, oxy­tocin, in both dogs and peo­ple.

The study by Ja­panese re­searchers in the U.S. jour­nal Science sug­gests that hu­mans and dogs co-evolved to be­come close over the cen­turies via the mu­tual eye con­tact and the higher lev­els of oxy­tocin, which fos­ters trust and emo­tional con­nec­tion, that it builds.

Pre­vi­ous re­search has shown that when moth­ers look into the eyes of their ba­bies, this leads to pro­duc­tion of oxy­tocin and with it, an out­flow of lov­ing, protective and close feel­ings.

The rea­son dogs evolved from wild wolves to be­come do­mes­tic pets and friends is be­cause of this same mech­a­nism, re­searchers said.

“Dogs are more skill­ful than wolves and chim­panzees, the clos­est re­spec­tive rel­a­tives of dogs and hu­mans, at us­ing hu­man so­cial com­mu­nica­tive be­hav­iors,” said the study, led by Take­fumi Kikusui of the Depart­ment of An­i­mal Science and Biotech­nol­ogy at Az­abu Uni­ver­sity in Ja­pan.

They stud­ied dogs and their own­ers, doc­u­ment­ing ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion in­clud­ing talk­ing, touch­ing, and gaz­ing, for 30 min­utes.

When they mea­sured oxy­tocin lev­els in the dogs’ and own­ers’ urine af­ter­ward, they found that “in­creased eye con­tact be­tween dogs and their own­ers had driven up lev­els of oxy­tocin in the brains of both species,” said the study.

The same ex­per­i­ment us­ing wolves did not pro­duce the re­sults seen in dogs, sug­gest­ing that as dogs evolved from wolves many cen­turies ago, those that be­came do­mes­ti­cated were able to mas­ter the power of the gaze, a key part of hu­man so­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Re­searchers then de­cided to try an­other ex­per­i­ment, in which they sprayed oxy­tocin di­rectly into the noses of dogs and placed them in a room with their own­ers and some strangers.

“Fe­male dogs re­sponded to the treat­ment by in­creas­ing the amount of time they gazed at their own­ers,” said the study.

It was un­clear why the same ef­fect was not seen in male dogs.

“Af­ter 30 min­utes, oxy­tocin lev­els had in­creased in the own­ers of the treated dogs ... pro­vid­ing fur­ther ev­i­dence for the oxy­tocin­medi­ated feed­back loop be­tween owner and ca­nine.”

It is al­ready well-known that dogs are man’s best friend. But the study sheds light on more than that, Greger Lar­son, an evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford in Bri­tain, told the jour­nal Science.

“The more that we know about the process of how dogs be­came as­so­ci­ated with peo­ple, the more we learn about the ori­gins of civ­i­liza­tion,” he said.

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