Dog and Owner Look-alikes? There’s More to It Than Funny Memes

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We’ve all seen funny pictures of dogs and their owners that look alike, whether it’s a longhaired woman with an Afghan Hound or a jowly-faced guy with his Bulldog. And, as amusing as those photos are, there is actually some science behind it.

 

Seeing Eye to Eye?

The resemblance may not be as obvious as the two examples above, but a study by Sadahiko Nakajima, a psychologist at Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan, found that people were surprisingly accurate when matching pictures of dogs with their owners. And they could do it based on facial features alone.

Research participants were presented with two sheets of photos showing human-dog pairings. The photos were all color head shots against a white background. They showed only the head and shoulders of dogs and humans, and the faces were digitally rendered to be equal in size. One sheet included 20 pairs of actual dogs and their owners. The other had 20 randomly matched pairs that were not owners and their dogs. Then participants were asked to choose which sheet displayed real life “couples.” The results were astounding: 80 percent of participants correctly identified the sheet with real owner/dog pairs.


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But what exactly did the participants see that helped them identify human/canine pairs? To narrow it down, Nakajima also added "masking conditions," which were randomly assigned to participants:

  • No-mask — full faces visible
  • Eye-mask — human eyes covered by black bars
  • Mouth-mask — human mouths covered by a black bar
  • Dog-eye mask — dog eyes were covered
  • Eye-only — thin rectangular images of just the human's and dog’s eyes were shown

Now the research could zero in on which particular facial detail accounted for the accuracy of the results. With the human’s mouth covered, the correct matches were still fairly high, at 73 percent. But with either of the pair’s eyes covered, accuracy dropped to statistical chance. The truly amazing result is that by looking at the eyes-only photos, 74 percent of participants still accurately chose real owner-dog pairings! So, it’s not about hairdos, gender, size, or any other physical traits; it’s all in the eyes. If the eyes are the windows into the soul, somehow humans and their dogs have truly found their soul mates. And while your mixed breed dog may indeed be your soul mate, all the studies so far have only included purebred dogs.

 

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I'm Just Like You, You're Just Like Me

Another study may shed some light on where this mysterious resemblance comes from, and suggests that a person chooses a dog that in some way resembles him or feels familiar. This may be similar to the way we choose a mate, carried over from primal, evolutionary behavior: we tend to choose someone with shared traits, thus ensuring genetic compatibility. Shared personality traits are a factor, too, and can even predict marriage satisfaction. Borbala Turcsan at Eotvos University in Budapest tested whether this was also true of our choice of dog. She proved that some personality traits in humans, such as extroversion or shyness, are reflected in the their choice of canine companion. According to Turcsan, the personalities of human-dog pairs may be more similar than those of married couples! This study, too, used purebred dogs.

So, whether we choose a dog because it just "feels right" or whether our bond with our dogs creates some sort of mysterious connection that can be seen, even in just the eyes of a "couple," we often do look like our dogs and vice versa. We may laugh at the photos of owners and their mini-mes, but on some level, we may all resemble our dogs.

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