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Study: Oxytocin Hormone Draws Dogs to Smiling Faces

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Researchers at the University of Helsinki wanted to explore how oxytocin, once administrated nasally, affects a dog’s gazing behavior. Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”, is a neurotransmitter as well, and it has been connected with social bonding and feelings of love, hence the name. Previous studies on oxytocin effects have only been done on apes and humans, but Finland’s Canine Mind research project was first to include man’s best friend.

Their study included 43 dogs, and each of them was tested twice: once with oxytocin administered, and once with a placebo solution (saline). During the process, dogs were shown two sets of pictures, one featuring a man smiling and one a man with an angry face. Their findings indicate that dogs who were under the influence of “love hormone” were more interested in the smiling pictures, as opposed to dogs that were given the placebo, whose pupils were enlarge at the sight of an angry man.

Why is this important? Dog’s instinct is to react first to a potential threat. Canines are skilled at reading our body language, so they knew that angry human face is something to be wary of. However, oxytocin made them react more intensely to display of happiness and be less alert to anger. Researchers report that this means that oxytocin has the potential to decrease a dog’s vigilance towards threating stimuli, and increase their response to positive ones.

The mechanism behind the oxytocin’s modulation of emotional processing is what really piqued the scientist’s interest. Their belief is that the same mechanism may facilitate communication between humans and dogs.

And, who knows? “Love hormone” might have various other benefits to canines, especially ones who suffer from behavioral issues. With gifted scientists and researchers dedicated to studying our four-legged companions, we probably won’t have to wait long to find out.


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