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Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds

Science  17 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6232, pp. 333-336
DOI: 10.1126/science.1261022

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Gaze into my eyes

Humans bond emotionally as we gaze into each other's eyes—a process mediated by the hormone oxytocin. Nagasawa et al. show that such gaze-mediated bonding also exists between us and our closest animal companions, dogs (see the Perspective by MacLean and Hare). They found that mutual gazing increased oxytocin levels, and sniffing oxytocin increased gazing in dogs, an effect that transferred to their owners. Wolves, who rarely engage in eye contact with their human handlers, seem resistant to this effect.

Science, this issue p. 333; see also p. 280

Abstract

Human-like modes of communication, including mutual gaze, in dogs may have been acquired during domestication with humans. We show that gazing behavior from dogs, but not wolves, increased urinary oxytocin concentrations in owners, which consequently facilitated owners’ affiliation and increased oxytocin concentration in dogs. Further, nasally administered oxytocin increased gazing behavior in dogs, which in turn increased urinary oxytocin concentrations in owners. These findings support the existence of an interspecies oxytocin-mediated positive loop facilitated and modulated by gazing, which may have supported the coevolution of human-dog bonding by engaging common modes of communicating social attachment.

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