Dog-Faced Humans

By Jocelyn Selim|Sunday, July 25, 2004

The notion that people resemble their dogs is not just an urban myth, say psychologists Nicholas Christenfeld and Michael Roy of the University of California at San Diego. Christenfeld visited local parks and randomly took separate photos of owners and their canine companions. He then showed a panel of 28 student judges a sequence of picture triads, each consisting of an owner, that owner’s dog, and another dog, randomly chosen. For purebreds, the judges correctly matched dog and owner 16 times out of 25—a statistically significant result. There was no corresponding match with mixed breeds, however.

The correlation may show our desire to see ourselves reflected in our pets, Christenfeld says: “Because the appearance of a purebred puppy is a sure thing, it suggests that people are choosing animals that resemble them.” He regards this as part of our general psychological need to bond with others similar to ourselves, even if the other is a dog.

What traits owners pick out in their pets is still a mystery. “We looked at size, hair color, and all the obvious characteristics we could think of and didn’t find significant correlations,” Christenfeld says. But people seem eager to embrace any perceived resemblances. “You’d think that shar-pei or bulldog owners might find this sort of thing distressing,” he says. “In fact, most of them are thrilled when we tell them the results.”

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