Human animal bond focus of recent study

The Vulcan mind meld and interspecies communication have traditionally been the stuff of the the Starship Enterprise. Until now.

A study published April 17 in Science Magazine, along with its related editorial, suggests that a positive feedback loop exists between dogs and their owners, fueled by oxytocin. And that loop is triggered by the gaze shared between dog and owner. 

This loop creates a love-and-protect bond similar to that between mother and child or romantic lovers. In a sense, two very different species become “family.”

The study, conducted by three Japanese universities—Azabu University, Jichi Medical University, and the University of Tokyo Health Sciences—found that dogs who shared a “mutual gaze,” had elevated levels of oxytocin. But so, too, did their human counterparts.

Additionally, the longer the owner and dog gazed at each other, the more concentrated were the spikes in oxytocin levels in both, reported the Los Angeles Times.

In the first experiment, oxytocin levels were measured in the urine of 30 owners and dogs before and after they interacted. (The dog breeds varied and the genders were mixed.) Oxytocin levels rose in both parties.

In the second experiment, oxytocin administered to dogs via a nasal spray increased the oxytocin level in their owners through mutual gaze, but only with female dogs. (The researchers speculated that the reason for this was due to the presence of strangers in the room and the male dogs’ vigilance.)

“What’s unique about this study is that it demonstrates that oxytocin can boost social gaze interaction between two very different species,” Steve Chang, an assistant professor of psychology and neurobiology at Yale, told the New York Times.

The study also suggests that the next time Fido stares at you, all he may want is for you to stare back.


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