Those “puppy dog eyes” have the ability to melts our hearts and brighten our mood any time of the day. But have you ever wondered why it has such a strong impact? This study sheds light on the subject. Comparing the anatomy and behavior of dogs and wolves, researchers found that dogs' facial anatomy has changed over thousands of years specifically to allow them to better communicate with humans.
The study suggests that dogs have a small muscle, which allows them to intensely raise their inner eyebrow. The wolves, on the other hand, do not have this muscle. The inner eyebrow raising movement by dogs triggers a nurturing response in humans because it makes the dogs' eyes appear larger, more infant like and also resembles a movement humans produce when they are sad.
The research team was led by comparative psychologist Dr Juliane Kaminski, at the University of Portsmouth. It included a team of behavioural and anatomical experts in Britain and America.
“The evidence is compelling that dogs developed a muscle to raise the inner eyebrow after they were domesticated from wolves,” said Dr Kaminski. "We also studied dogs' and wolves' behavior, and when exposed to a human for two minutes, dogs raised their inner eyebrows more and at higher intensities than wolves.”
"The findings suggest that expressive eyebrows in dogs may be a result of humans unconscious preferences that influenced selection during domestication. When dogs make the movement, it seems to elicit a strong desire in humans to look after them. This would give dogs, that move their eyebrows more, a selection advantage over others and reinforce the 'puppy dog eyes' trait for future generations."
Referencing a previous research, the psychologist said it had shown that dogs moved their eyebrows significantly more when humans were looking at them compared to when they were not looking at them. "The AU101 movement is significant in the human-dog bond because it might elicit a caring response from humans but also might create the illusion of human-like communication."
Co-author of the research and lead anatomist at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University Professor Anne Burrows said: “to determine whether this eyebrow movement is a result of evolution, we compared the facial anatomy and behaviour of these two species and found the muscle that allows for the eyebrow raise in dogs was, in wolves, a scant, irregular cluster of fibres.”
"The raised inner eyebrow movement in dogs is driven by a muscle which doesn't consistently exist in their closest living relative, the wolf,” she continued, "This is a striking difference for species separated only 33,000 years ago and we think that the remarkably fast facial muscular changes can be directly linked to dogs' enhanced social interaction with humans."
"This movement makes a dogs' eyes appear larger, giving them a childlike appearance. It could also mimic the facial movement humans make when they're sad,” said evolutionary psychologist and co-author Professor Bridget Waller. "Our findings show how important faces can be in capturing our attention, and how powerful facial expression can be in social interaction."
“These muscles are so thin that you can literally see through them -- and yet the movement that they allow seems to have such a powerful effect that it appears to have been under substantial evolutionary pressure. It is really remarkable that these simple differences in facial expression may have helped define the relationship between early dogs and humans,” added co-author and anatomist Adam Hartstone-Rose of North Carolina State University.
Anatomist at Washington’s Howard University and co-author Rui Diogo said: "I must admit that I was surprised to see the results myself because the gross anatomy of muscles is normally very slow to change in evolution, and this happened very fast indeed, in just some dozens of thousands of years." The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).