The Chicken or the Egg

Beth's PupWe love them, our pets. Our best buddies. Our confidantes! Our wingmen! They help us through loss. They help us through heartache. They celebrate with us. Comfort us. What we fail to realize is that certain pets, say, dogs and cats, have certain types of owners, and you can pretty much guarantee that this runs across the board. Dog people are one way. Cat people are another. Let’s look into this.

So, when you think of the animal cats, you may think aloof, skittish, pristine and a bit shy. Well, guess what? Their people, owners, are not too far from it either. Cat people tend to be more introverted, open-minded, sensitive, non-conformist expedient and practical. Some say more intelligent, but as a dog person who considers herself smart, I prefer to disagree on that one.

Now think of dogs- lively, energetic, outgoing extroverts. I would also add wild at heart and ready for adventure. They are saying people pick the pets based on their personality types, but could it be the opposite and the pets influence the people’s personalities?

This also applies to physical appearance. A 2009 experiment showed that people were, able to match dogs and their owners simply by looking at photographs of their faces at a rate significantly higher than chance. Then what they wanted to know was why. Why and how can we detect or pick out of a crowd of photos the correct owners to their dogs, and could it the pet-human resemblance could be traced to a specific facial feature?

For the experiment, 500 plus people were shown two sets of photographs. One set showed pictures of real owners and their dogs, while the other set had random pairings of people and dogs. The participants were randomly assigned to one of five different photo conditions: in which the human’s and the dog’s faces were unobstructed, the human’s eyes were blacked out, the human’s mouth was blacked out, the dog’s eyes were blacked out and eye-only (where just the eyes of the human and the dog could be seen.

The participants were then asked to select the dog-owner pairs that physically resembled each other.

The results of the experiment were very interesting.

As in prior experiments, participants who were shown the unobstructed photos correctly identified the dog-owner pairs most of the time with an accuracy rate of 80%. When the owners’ mouths were covered, participants were correct 73 percent of the time. But when the eyes of either the humans or the dogs were covered up, the participants’ accuracy fell to the level of random chance to about 50 percent either when the human’s eyes were blacked out, or when the dog’s were. When people were shown only the eyes of the dog and the human, their accuracy rose to 74 percent.

It seems it’s all in the eyes!

The results definitely show that individuals make decisions on dog to owner resemblance mainly by comparing features of the eye region between dogs and owners.

But why do people wind up looking like their dogs? Some say preference for the familiar, but here’s the chicken or the egg conundrum again. Do you look like your pet or does your pet look like you? There is a psychological mechanism which explains why a person might choose a dog that looks similar to themselves, and it is subtle yet simple. The answer is familiarity, or in technical publications, referred to as “the mere exposure effect.” Explaining why we are so willing to read and view each new version of the King Arthur legend, or why people revisit the same opera, and why radio stations that play only oldies are so popular. It also explains why people vote for actors, and the sons, daughters or wives of well-known people without any prior knowledge of their actual competency. It is simply because the name is so familiar that a positive feeling has developed around it.

So, of course, what is something we see every single day of our lives? Our own faces are something which we are quite familiar with. We see it in the mirror every morning as put on makeup or comb our hair. We see images of our face thousands of times each year as we pass by all the reflective surfaces in our environment, and I’m pretty sure for the most part we are fond of our own image coming back at us. It is also likely that we transfer some of that positive sentiment to anything that is similar enough to remind us of our face. This provides a link to why people end up with dogs that look like themselves. If the features of one breed of dog’s face look something like the features of our own face, then that breed should arouse a bit more of a warm and loving response on our part.

So, you decide, the chicken or the egg?



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