The NYTimes “Well” blog reports on “The Look of Love“:
… Japanese researchers found that dogs who trained a long gaze on their owners had elevated levels of oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain that is associated with nurturing and attachment, similar to the feel-good feedback that bolsters bonding between parent and child. After receiving those long gazes, the owners’ levels of oxytocin increased, too.
The dog’s gaze cues connection and response in the owner, who will reward the dog by gazing, talking and touching, all of which helps solder the two, the researchers said. They suggest that dogs became domesticated in part by adapting to a primary human means of contact: eye-to-eye communication…
Dr. Chang, who studies oxytocin in animals, noted that through domestication, dogs came to regard humans as their “key social partners,” while humans also came to view dogs as social partners.
“In a way, domesticated dogs could hijack our social circuits, and we can hijack their social circuits,” he said in an email, as each species learned how to raise the other’s oxytocin levels, facilitating connection…
… Evan L. MacLean, co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and a co-author of a commentary accompanying the study, said, “We don’t know what the dog’s gaze means. When you look at a human baby, it feels good. Maybe dogs gaze at you because it feels good. Maybe the dogs are hugging you with their eyes?”
But Dr. MacLean, an evolutionary anthropologist, said that fundamentally, for dogs, human behavior is “the telltale of everything that is about to happen.” Are we going to stand or sit? Leave the room? Bring food?…
“If I was dropped on Mars,” Dr. MacLean said, “and everyone was speaking a language I didn’t understand, and I knew I could never acquire their language, I’d just give up. But dogs don’t. They’re not reluctant to tune in to us at every moment.”
Much more detail at the link. The feedback loop doesn’t work with wolves raised with humans; among pack-based predators, a fixed gaze is liable to be perceived as a challenge — a threat. Maybe our protocanine companions were domesticating us pack-apes in parallel to our domestication of them. And maybe, when we go forth in search of Martians, we should take them with us, to help explain our pecularities?
Apart from gazing with love at our personal wolf-analogs, what’s on the agenda as we wrap up another long week?