Canine Cuddles: The Science Behind Why Hugging Your Dog Makes Everything Better

May 25th, 2023

By Nikki Harper

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

In today’s fast-paced modern society, the relationship between humans and dogs has evolved far beyond the traditional pet-owner dynamic. Dogs have seamlessly integrated into our families, occupying a special place in our hearts as cherished companions. They offer us unconditional love, unwavering loyalty, and a sense of emotional fulfillment that is unparalleled. Furthermore, dogs have proven to be invaluable sources of support, aiding in various therapeutic settings and enhancing our overall well-being. The profound nature of this bond has captivated the interest of scientists, prompting them to explore the intricate neurophysiological aspects of the affiliative behavior shared between humans and dogs.

In this enlightening article, we delve into the captivating findings derived from a ground-breaking study published in the esteemed journal Physiology & Behavior. This study delves into the complex mechanisms that underpin the extraordinary connection between humans and dogs. By unraveling the neurophysiological correlates of this unique bond, scientists hope to gain a deeper understanding of the mutual affection and profound impact that dogs have on human lives. Join us as we embark on a journey through the realms of science and emotion, uncovering the secrets behind the human-dog relationship and shedding light on the profound ways in which dogs touch our lives.

The Study: Exploring the Neurophysiological Aspects

The aforementioned study conducted by Nagasawa et al. (2006) aimed to investigate the neurophysiological mechanisms behind the strong affiliative behavior observed between humans and dogs. To accomplish this, the researchers focused on the interaction between oxytocin and the bonding process, both in humans and dogs.

The Role of Oxytocin in Human-Dog Bonding

Oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” plays a crucial role in various social behaviors and bonding processes. It has been extensively studied in the context of maternal-infant bonding and romantic relationships in humans. The researchers hypothesized that oxytocin might also be involved in the formation and maintenance of the human-dog bond.

The study involved three groups: dog owners, owners’ dogs, and unfamiliar dogs. The participants and their dogs were observed while engaging in various activities, such as gazing into each other’s eyes, petting, and talking. Blood samples were collected to measure oxytocin levels in both humans and dogs before and after the interactions.

The results of the study revealed a significant increase in oxytocin levels in both humans and dogs after positive social interactions. Importantly, the increase was observed in both dog owners and their dogs, suggesting a reciprocal bonding mechanism. This finding provided scientific evidence supporting the notion that the human-dog bond is mediated, at least in part, by the release of oxytocin.

Mutual Gaze and Affiliative Behavior – The Power of Eye Contact

One of the remarkable aspects of human-dog interactions is the frequent and intense gaze exchanges between them. This behavior, known as mutual gaze, has been linked to the release of oxytocin and is believed to foster social bonding.

The study investigated the effects of mutual gaze between humans and dogs on oxytocin release. The researchers found that during eye contact, both humans and dogs experienced a surge in oxytocin levels. This finding suggests that mutual gaze serves as a powerful mechanism for enhancing the bond between humans and dogs, facilitating trust and emotional connection.

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Emotional Contagion and Positive Social Interaction – Unleashing the Power of Emotions

In addition to mutual gaze, positive social interactions were also examined for their role in promoting affiliative behavior between humans and dogs. The researchers focused on emotional contagion, the phenomenon in which emotions can be transferred from one individual to another.

The results indicated that positive social interactions, such as petting and talking to dogs, led to increased oxytocin levels in both humans and dogs. Furthermore, the researchers found a positive correlation between the duration of positive interactions and the magnitude of oxytocin release. This suggests that the more time spent engaging in positive social interactions, the stronger the bond between humans and dogs becomes.

Conclusion

The groundbreaking study on the neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behavior between humans and dogs has provided us with a deeper understanding of the remarkable bond that exists between these two species. By unraveling the complex mechanisms involved, scientists have unveiled the fascinating interplay of biology, emotion, and social interaction that underpins the human-dog bond.

These findings have profound implications for both humans and dogs alike. Recognizing the role of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” in strengthening the bond emphasizes the significance of positive social interactions and mutual gaze in fostering a deep sense of connection and trust. Understanding the science behind the human-dog bond not only allows us to appreciate the unique and unconditional love our canine companions provide, but it also inspires us to nurture and strengthen this bond for the well-being and happiness of both species.

Moreover, this knowledge opens doors for further research and exploration, leading to potential advancements in animal-assisted therapy, dog training techniques, and even our understanding of human social behavior. By recognizing the intricate neurophysiological processes at play, we can continue to deepen our appreciation for the profound impact that dogs have on our lives and further promote the harmonious coexistence of humans and dogs in our modern society.

In a world where loneliness and disconnection have become prevalent, the human-dog bond serves as a shining example of the power of love, companionship, and empathy. As we continue to unlock the mysteries of this extraordinary relationship, may we cherish and nurture the special bond between humans and dogs, recognizing it as a source of comfort, joy, and profound emotional connection for generations to come.

References:

Neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12672376/

About the author:

Nikki Harper is a spiritualist writer, astrologer, and editor for Wake Up World. She writes about divination, astrology, mediumship and spirituality at Questionology: Astrology and Divination For the Modern World where you can also find out more about her work as a freelance astrologer and her mind-body-spirit writing and editing services. Nikki also runs a spiritualist centre in North Lincs, UK, hosting weekly mediumship demonstrations and a wide range of spiritual development courses and workshops.