AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Emotions

Smile, it makes your dog happy!

Looking at your dog can bring a smile to your face, and looking at you can actually make your dog smile too!  A new study shows that dogs have an emotional response to our facial expressions; dogs like smiling faces, and don’t like angry faces. This is linked to the hormone oxytocin, which influences what and how a dog emotionally experiences what it sees. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter, dubbed the “love hormone,” so an increase in oxytocin yields a positive reaction.

University of Helsinki researchers studied 43 domestic dogs. The dogs were presented with pictures of unfamiliar faces with happy or angry expressions. Each dog was tested twice; once under the influence of oxytocin, and once without oxytocin. The dogs reactions were determined by their gaze and pupil size, because emotions and attentiveness regulate these reactions (for more information on the relationship between pupil size and emotions, click here). According to the authors, “dogs typically focus on the most remarkable aspect of each situation, such as threatening stimuli in a frightening situation.” Therefore in the trial, dogs will focus on the most remarkable face, either the happy or angry one.

The dogs under the influence of oxytocin were more interested in the smiling faces, and the oxytocin influenced their emotional state, as indicated by their pupil size. They had a larger emotional response to smiling faces under oxytocin, because their pupils were wider. When the dogs weren’t under the influence of oxytocin, their pupils were wider when looking at angry faces, so they were more focused on and had a larger emotional response to the angry faces. The researchers concluded that oxytocin made the angry faces seem less threatening, and the happy faces seem more appealing. This is why the dogs focused on happy faces with oxytocin, and angry faces without oxytocin.

This photo is credited to Max Pixel.

To further the studies, the scientists said that more studies are needed to determine wether the results are only for domestic dogs or if the same reaction occurs with other animals. More studies should also be conducted on dogs with familiar faces, to see if familiarity would change the results of oxytocin on emotional face processing. They also added that in future studies, account of the dog breed, sex, and personality traits should be taken into account because oxytocin does not have uniform effects.

For more information, click here. For the research, click here.

Understanding Communication between Dogs

If you like dogs or happen to be a dog owner, you may have heard that when a dog wags its tail, it’s showing signs of happiness and friendliness. Well, a research on the communication between dogs in 2007 indicates that the direction to which the dog wags its tail is also significant in indicating a dog’s mood. The Italian researchers discovered that a wag of the tail to the left demonstrates negative emotions, while a wag to the right conveys more positive emotions.


Photo taken by author

Photo taken by author

Recently, another study published by Current Biology furthered this case. It is reported that when dogs watch videos or other dogs wagging its tails, when the video shows a wag tail to the left, the dog reacts with anxiety with a higher heartbeat; when the video shows a wag to the right, however, the dog reacts more calmly.

This is because emotions are related to either the left or right side of the brain, and a left-brain activation leads to a wag to the right, while a right-brain activation leads to a wag to the left.

This is significant because it is one way that dogs may communicate to one another. So next time when you see a dog wagging its tails, you know that it’s showing more emotion than just happiness.

Original Article: A Dog’s Tail Wag Says a Lot, to Other Dogs

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