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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What’s Behind Human, Pet Look-Alikes

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 What’s Behind Human, Pet Look-Alikes
by Derek Korte


Have you ever wondered why pet parents so often resemble their pets? Is it just a freaky coincidence, or a case of human imagination run amok?

New research suggests that people can look like their pets. The answer lies in the eyes, though scientists aren’t sure why, writes University of Arkansas psychology professor Jesse Bering in Slate.
                                                             Image via flickr/Uwe Mäurer
A Japanese psychologist, Sadahiko Nakajima, recently investigated the look-alike phenomenon. He limited the study to facial features, ruling out physical characteristics like weight or even attire that could cause a resemblance.

The research team began by taking photos of 40 dogs and their owners. (The humans were an even mix of males and females, and the dogs were a variety of breeds.) Then, they randomly split the photos into two sheets of paper, each with 20 paired photos. One sheet contained real dog and owner matches, while the other featured photos of randomly paired dogs and humans. The team then asked more than 500 Japanese undergraduate students to choose the sheet with the paired photos that looked alike.

But there’s a wrinkle: Being good scientists, the researchers obscured features of both humans and dogs in some of the photo sets. The students were able to sniff out the fake pairs with varying success, depending on the photo variation.

When the humans’ eyes were covered, students correctly identified the pairs about half of the time.

When the dogs’ eyes were covered, students were also correct about half of the time.

When only the eyes of dogs and humans were shown, the students’ accuracy rose to 74 percent.

When unobscured photos were shown, the students were correct 80 percent of the time.

Clearly, the eyes are important — though scientists can’t really explain why.

“It’s not about hairstyles, obesity, gender, height, or even eye color,” Bering writes. “Instead, it’s clearly something that’s being conveyed in the shared look about the eyes of dogs and their people.…Nakajima is just as stumped as the rest of us about the underlying mechanism.”

Whatever the scientific explanation, it seems dog owners come face-to-face with their doppelgänger every time they look their pet in the eye.

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