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News > Science and Tech

Scientists Say Dogs Are Attracted to Smiling Human Faces

  • A dog and man shake hands at the Crufts Dog Show in 2013.

    A dog and man shake hands at the Crufts Dog Show in 2013. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 November 2017

Researchers believe they have broken ground in dog-human relations by demonstrating that dogs show strong emotional responses to human faces.

Researchers in the University of Helsinki’s ‘Canine Mind’ group tested 43 dogs by showing them pictures of smiling and angry human faces. The dogs were tested two times, once while under the influence of the hormone ‘oxytocin’, commonly referred to as the ‘love hormone.’ An eye-tracking device was used to determine the size of the dogs’ pupils and track their gaze, which researchers claim is a window into the canines’ emotions.

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Dogs, like many other creatures, focus their gaze on important stimuli, namely those that appear to be threatening. However, dogs that were given oxytocin focused more on smiling faces rather than ones that were threatening and angry. Researchers also noted changes in the canines’ pupil size, which they believe shows a change in emotional state.

"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," said Professor Outi Vainio, the head of the research team.

When not under the influence of oxytocin, the dogs’ pupils showed their greatest enlargement when looking at angry faces, which demonstrates an aroused state by the dogs.

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

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Researchers took these results to mean that, while under the effect of oxytocin, the dogs found angry faces less threatening and also found smiling faces more appealing, though certainly the second response was more pronounced while under the hormone’s effects.

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

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