If ever you overhear someone comparing you to a dog, chances are it’s not a compliment. Yes, there’s the famous loyalty of dogs, their unbridled enthusiasm for life, their boundless love and devotion, their fierce protectiveness—qualities that any of us would be lucky to possess at even a modicum of their standard manifestation in the canine. Typically, though, it’s meant as a slight and a reference to some especially animalistic aspect of our four-legged friends.
As much as we might quibble over the virtues and vices of Canis domesticus, however, and over whether human nature is any better or worse than dog nature, even dog fanciers don’t usually want to look like a dog. The hair of a poodle, the jowls of a bulldog, the bug eyes of a pug, the wrinkles of a Shar-Pei, the profile of a collie, the street-sweeping udders of a lactating mongrel … none of these traits are considered beautiful when incarnated in our own species. Still, if we look in the mirror, each of us can expect to find a certain doggy je ne sais quoi staring back at us. Those of us who own a dog, anyway. And we don’t resemble just any old dog, either. Rather, we look somehow, in a can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it kind of way, like our own dogs.
So what is it, exactly, that enables us to correctly link owners and their dogs? That’s the mystery that Sadahiko Nakajima, a psychologist from Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan, set out to solve in a recent study published in the journal Anthrozoös. This wasn’t Nakajima’s first stab at it. In prior research, he and his colleagues had shown that research participants could match photos of owners and their dogs by facial appearance alone. People could also recognize that photos of dogs and owners that the investigators had arbitrarily coupled were fake pairs. Impressive! Still, that just told him that people are surprisingly adept at knowing which pooch goes with which person on the basis of their facial appearance. So in this latest study, Nakajima teased apart the various possibilities to find out which facial features people use to make their bizarrely accurate judgments.
Read the whole story: Slate