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Scientists Take Peek Behind Those Sad Puppy Dog Eyes and Find a Unique Muscle

Pooches use the muscle to raise their eyebrows and make the babylike expression

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Scientists, Sad, Puppy
FILE - Lexy, a therapy dog, is seen at Fort Bragg, N.C., Feb. 18, 2014. A study released June 17, 2019, suggests that over thousands of years of dog domestication, people preferred dogs that could pull off the "puppy dog" eyes look. VOA

What’s behind those hard-to-resist puppy dog eyes?

New research suggests that over thousands of years of dog domestication, people preferred pups that could pull off that appealing, sad look. And that encouraged the development of the facial muscle that creates it.

Today, pooches use the muscle to raise their eyebrows and make the babylike expression. That muscle is virtually absent in their ancestors, the wolves.

“You don’t typically see such muscle differences in species that are that closely related,” said Anne Burrows of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, an author of the study released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists, Sad, Puppy
FILE – A female red wolf emerges from her den sheltering newborn pups at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C., May 13, 2019. VOA

Dogs differ from wolves in many ways, from having shorter snouts, smaller sizes and more expressive faces. And unlike wolves, dogs heavily rely on human eye contact, whether to know when someone’s talking to them or when they can’t solve a problem, like hopping a fence or getting out the door.

Burrows and her colleagues examined the eye muscles in the cadavers of six dogs and two wolves. They found dogs have a meaty eye muscle to lift their eyebrows and make puppy dog eyes. But in wolves, the same muscle was stringy or missing.

The scientists also recorded 27 dogs and nine wolves as each stared at a person. Pet pooches frequently and intensely pulled back their eyebrows to make sad expressions, while the wolves rarely made these faces, and never with great intensity.

The researchers believe dogs, over their relatively short 33,000 years of domestication, used this eye muscle to communicate, possibly goading people to feed or care for them — or at least take them out to play. And people, perhaps unwittingly, obliged.

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‘Profound’ implications

Dog experts not involved with the study were impressed.

“The implications are quite profound,” said Brian Hare from Duke University, who edited the article. Hare wrote in an email that these muscles almost certainly developed because they gave dogs an advantage when interacting with people, and people have been unaware of it.

“The proof has been in their puppy dog eyes all this time!” he said.

Scientists, Sad, Puppy
Over thousands of years of dog domestication, people preferred pups that could pull off that appealing, sad look. Pixabay

Evan MacLean at the University of Arizona called the findings fascinating, but cautioned that the muscle difference could be an indirect effect of other changes rather than a specific response to human influence.

Clive Wynne of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University said: “Kudos to the researchers for thinking of a cool way to investigate an important aspect of dogs’ success” with humans.

But he noted in an email that the study has a few snags, particularly the small sampling — only five dog breeds were examined and videos were mainly of Staffordshire bull terriers — and the lack of background information about each animal.

“Did these wolves regularly meet people bearing gifts that might be worth asking for with an endearing face?” he asked.

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Burrows said she planned follow-up studies to examine more breeds. (VOA)

Next Story

Scientists: Nations Need Stronger Pledges to Curb Climate Change

Governments are moving in the right direction, but nowhere near enough, so hopefully they will be willing to take on much stronger commitments

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Scientists, Nations, Climate Change
A woman wearing a mask walks past buildings on a polluted day in Handan, Hebei province, China, Jan. 12, 2019. China is reportedly the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases. VOA

The vast majority of national commitments in the 2015 Paris Agreement are inadequate to prevent the worst effects of global warming, scientists said on Tuesday, naming the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitting countries as among those that must ratchet up their efforts.

“Governments are moving in the right direction, but nowhere near enough, so hopefully they will be willing to take on much stronger commitments” in next month’s United Nation’s climate summit in Spain, said Robert Watson, lead author of the report by the nonprofit Universal Ecological Fund.

The report ranked nearly 75%, or 136, of the pledges as insufficient, including ones by major carbon emitters China, the United States, and India. A dozen, by countries including Australia, Japan and Brazil, were judged only partially sufficient.

Countries at next month’s summit in Madrid will hash out some details of the international pact to curb warming. Chile withdrew as host following weeks of riots protesting inequality.

Scientists, Nations, Climate Change
A protestor holds a placard in front of the India Gate during a protest demanding government to take immediate steps to control air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 5, 2019. VOA

Of the 184 pledges countries made under the climate agreement, only 36 are ambitious enough to help reach the agreement’s goal of keeping global warming less than 1.5 Celsius (2.7 F) above pre-industrial levels, the report said.

Most of those 36 are by countries in the European Union.

Watson, a former chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the report could be read two ways: “You can read ‘My God it’s hopeless’, or ‘My God this is a wake up call.'”

Watson estimated that even if all nations meet their existing pledges, the world would be headed for temperature rise of between 3 and 3.5 degrees Celsius, which could lead to more extreme weather, rising sea levels and the loss of plant and animal species.

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The report rated the European Union’s 28 member states as having sufficient pledges because they aim to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 40% below the 1990 level by 2030.

It ranked the United States as insufficient because President Donald Trump reversed former President Barack Obama’s climate policies and yanked Washington out of the pact. The administration, which argues that Paris Agreement would cost U.S. taxpayers too much money, filed official paperwork on Monday to withdraw.

China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, and India, also came in as insufficient because their pledges focus on carbon intensity targets, which lower emissions per unit of gross domestic product, or GDP. Because those economies are growing and coal produces much of their electricity, total emissions have risen sharply even though carbon intensity levels in China and India have fallen. (VOA)