The New York City subway system often gets a bum
Nearly any dog owner will tell you that they love their fur babies as much as they’d love a human child. Now there’s a scientific reason behind this claim; and as it turns out, dogs feel the same exact child-parent bond that we do.
It’s evolution, baby.
A new study in this week’s issue of Science details a set of experiments from Japan’s Azabu University. Lead researcher Miho Nagasawa set out to prove that dogs and humans bond over the hormone oxytoxin. This is the same hormone responsible for bonding between human mothers and their babies (particularly during breastfeeding). This love hormone also exists between dogs and their owners. The team’s results prove that dogs, while evolving from wolves, learned to exploit this hormone to survive (and thrive) amongst humans.
Oxytocin is a powerful neuropeptide that helps child and mother develop an enduring bond, thereby promoting the survival of our human species. These scientists discovered the presence of this hormone between dogs and owners when they gaze at each other. Nagasawa’s findings are groundbreaking in that they prove “the existence of an interspecies oxytocin-mediated positive loop facilitated and modulated by gazing.” In this crafty way, dogs learned to use their puppy dog eyes to truly become man’s best friend.
Here’s the gist of the experiment:
(1) Researchers started by observing 30 owners and their dogs interacting during playtime for 30 minutes. Many types of dog — including German shepherds, Jack Russell terriers, golden retrievers, and poodles — were included in this subject set.
(2) Dogs and humans both gave urine samples before and after the playtime sessions. Dogs whose owners made the most eye contact with them showed the highest oxytocin levels after the session. The effect was replicated for humans whose dogs made the most eye contact with them. Researchers conducted the same experiment with hand-raised wolves, and no spiked oxytocin levels were observed.
(3) To up the ante, researchers repeated the experiment by first spraying either oxytocin or a placebo salt solution up the dogs’ noses before playtime. Those dogs who received the oxytocin stared at their owners the most, but (for unknown reasons) the effect was highest in female dogs.
The results of this experiment concluded that dogs do indeed exploit the oxytocin hormone in order to hook their respective humans. Researchers Evan MacLean and Brian Hare (Duke Canine Cognition Center) wrote an op-ed that appears alongside the study. They believe the results “reveal a powerful mechanism through which dogs win our hearts, and we win theirs in return. The implications of these findings are far-reaching. The benefits of assistance dogs for individuals with autism or post-traumatic stress disorder – conditions for which oxytocin is currently being used as an experimental treatment – may arise partly through these social pathways.”
Translation: Go play with your dog! You’ll both benefit immensely from the bonding experience.
Source: Science magazine