Bigger, droopier, and objectively cuter...
June 18, 2019 4:12 AM   Subscribe

A paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that dogs’ faces are structured for complex expression in a way that wolves’ aren’t, thanks to a special pair of muscles framing their eyes. These muscles are responsible for that “adopt me” look that dogs can pull by raising their inner eyebrows. It’s the first biological evidence scientists have found that domesticated dogs might have evolved a specialized ability used expressly to communicate better with humans. [The Atlantic]
posted by jim in austin (33 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is my surprised face.
posted by pipeski at 4:42 AM on June 18 [9 favorites]


Getting this look right now as I refuse to hand out a second round of breakfast!
posted by sallybrown at 4:43 AM on June 18 [20 favorites]


My understanding is that domestication has nothing to do with evolution. By definition artificial and therefore not natural selection. Will we also regard the things we select from crispr as evolved?
posted by adept256 at 5:05 AM on June 18


The NYT's reporting on this finding includes this gem:
They started with horses and cats, and, she said, horses have facial movements similar to dogs, but cats do not. “It turned out they just don’t really move their faces at all.” The researchers did not explain how cats are nonetheless able to express highly sophisticated states of mind such as skepticism, disdain, deep self-satisfaction and world-weary ennui.
Also this is a topic the Atlantic has mused on before.
posted by solotoro at 5:14 AM on June 18 [27 favorites]


Not sure why you think that domestication and evolution are separate adept265? No expert here, but the article defines it "domestication, a long evolutionary process". Humans and their rewards are as much a part of the landscape that dogs evolved in as anything else, and "domestication" surely just another flavour of evolution that we have given a special name because it is so central to us?
posted by Gratishades at 5:16 AM on June 18 [10 favorites]


adept256: My understanding is that domestication has nothing to do with evolution. By definition artificial and therefore not natural selection. Will we also regard the things we select from crispr as evolved?

Definitely evolution. Wikipedia puts it well enough: "Evolution is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations." Doesn't matter where the mutations or the selection come from, it's still evolution.
posted by clawsoon at 5:25 AM on June 18 [8 favorites]


Also, human preference for cuter, more expressive dog faces is still natural selection. We like it. We don't know why. Let's breed more dogs that are cuter. Tada!
posted by agregoli at 5:27 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it’s still evolution, and we are still animals. This one has evolved to get the maximum number of resources from me, and I am also big enough of a creature that I can protect her from predators, etc. Besides, do you think she could survive in the wild, with a face (and disposition) like that? I have my doubts.
posted by witchen at 5:36 AM on June 18 [9 favorites]


Getting this look right now as I refuse to hand out a second round of breakfast!

I assume you also didn't get their memo about elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:37 AM on June 18 [27 favorites]


Nest parasites! They are nest parasites. Nest parasites that will in some cases die protecting us, though. Shit, maybe we are nest parasites on them.

My favorite dog expression is the micro-snarl, a tiny lip twitch showing the very tip of a few teeth. It is intra-specific because most humans can't see it most of the time. I wish I could micro-snarl.
posted by ckridge at 5:39 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


These muscles are responsible for that “adopt me” look that dogs can pull by raising their inner eyebrows.

Presumably also for the "ashamed public pooping" look.
posted by duffell at 5:40 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


ckridge: Nest parasites! They are nest parasites. Nest parasites that will in some cases die protecting us, though. Shit, maybe we are nest parasites on them.

I believe that mutualism is the word you're looking for. I'm reminded of this article:
When ecologists try to model ecosystems using math, they tend to find that the more interactions there are among species, the more unstable the system. For a simple ecosystem model to be stable, all the interactions among its species must be in perfect harmony. Maintaining that balancing act gets much harder, however, as the number of coupled species and the strengths of their interactions rise: Any disturbance or imbalance for one couple ripples outward and sows chaos throughout the network.

Bring in mutualisms, relationships in which species contribute directly to each other’s survival, and things can really fly off the handle. Pairs of organisms that live off each other sometimes do so well in the mathematical simulations — thriving exponentially in extreme cases, in what Robert May, the theoretical ecology pioneer, once called “an orgy of mutual benefaction” — that everything else can go extinct.

It seems unlikely that real ecosystems are quite this flimsy.
When I read that article, I was, like, but wait, this is exactly what humans have done via mutualism with a handful of plant and animal species. This is what's happening right now! A million species are going extinct because of the wildly successful mutualism between humans and wheat and rice and dogs and cows!
posted by clawsoon at 5:55 AM on June 18 [14 favorites]


White Fang was not demonstrative. He was too old, too firmly moulded, to become adept at expressing himself in new ways. He was too self-possessed, too strongly poised in his own isolation. Too long had he cultivated reticence, aloofness, and moroseness. He had never barked in his life, and he could not now learn to bark a welcome when his god approached. He was never in the way, never extravagant nor foolish in the expression of his love. He never ran to meet his god. He waited at a distance; but he always waited, was always there. His love partook of the nature of worship, dumb, inarticulate, a silent adoration. Only by the steady regard of his eyes did he express his love, and by the unceasing following with his eyes of his god's every movement.
posted by rory at 5:55 AM on June 18 [14 favorites]


If only Jack London had known about the retractor anguli oculi lateralis and the levator anguli oculi medialis.
posted by clawsoon at 5:59 AM on June 18 [8 favorites]


we also have induced neoteny in so many dogs. there's a venn diagram in which betty boop and dogs overlap. that's weird.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:11 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that domestication has nothing to do with evolution. By definition artificial and therefore not natural selection. Will we also regard the things we select from crispr as evolved?

I think this distinction is largely, um, artificial. What word would you use for the process whereby those muscles appeared in the dogs? If evolution only means natural selection of traits produced by random mutation, what word means human selection of traits produced by random mutation? What word for human selection of traits produced by deliberate mutation? And why should human selection be artificial when co-evolution of symbiotic species also implies selection driven by a different species? Is humanity's own evolution natural or artificial, given how much of its recent history seems to be related to socialising and other factors we create ourselves?

I think using evolution as a general term for differentiation over time is safest, given the huge number of edge cases that arise when you try to define artificial over natural, and deliberate over chance. The production of trait X by mechanism Y is enough to be useful.
posted by Devonian at 6:58 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


My favorite dog expression is the micro-snarl, a tiny lip twitch showing the very tip of a few teeth. It is intra-specific because most humans can't see it most of the time. I wish I could micro-snarl.

My dog does this sometimes; I think of it as the canine equivalent of giving someone some strong side-eye.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:46 AM on June 18


My own favorite dog expression uses just these muscles. They'll rest their head and move their eyebrows as they look plaintively from one side to the other, as if to say, "will I ever know love [food/ball/outside] again?"
posted by Countess Elena at 11:03 AM on June 18 [16 favorites]


The researchers did not explain how cats are nonetheless able to express highly sophisticated states of mind such as skepticism, disdain, deep self-satisfaction and world-weary ennui.

Adding the anecdata that I definitely got what can only be described as a dirty look from my cat once. This was when I was still living with the ex who got him for us, and Zach was curled up at the foot of our bed asleep. We started talking about how cute Zach looked, and spent a couple minutes speculating what Zach may be dreaming about while he slept.

And after a couple minutes of this, Zach finally opened just one eye and glared at us, with an expression that unmistakeably meant "WILL. YOU. BOTH. SHUT. UP."

Of course then it took us both a couple minutes to stop laughing at him so he still didn't get back to sleep right away. Sorry, Zach.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on June 18 [7 favorites]


cats do not. “It turned out they just don’t really move their faces at all.”

This must be some definition of 'face' that I'm not aware of that excludes the lips, tongue, eyelid, nose, jaw and ears, as I'm pretty sure cats have many different facial expressions! They don't ham it up like dogs though.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:08 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


Speaking of neoteny, do we know wolf puppies don't do anything like this?
posted by jamjam at 11:22 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I think because domestication (neoteny an adaptive part of domestication) is the result of of years and years of breeding, which we haven't done to wolves. We definitely could, but would take a while. Unlike foxes, which can apparently be domesticated through breeding rather quickly.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:27 AM on June 18


A wolf pupy can do all sorts of things with its eyes
posted by moonmilk at 11:38 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I wondered why my catahoula wants a shoulder holster.
posted by clavdivs at 11:44 AM on June 18


Did we also select for them putting their chins down on the ground to look pitiful? Any dog does that and I become the treat issuing machine.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:03 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


Just last night Little Purr asked why Doggie Purr had winked at them. Little did we know that it was an evolutionary ploy for more treats (but we should have known).

Doggie Purr is also known to do the most ridiculous submissive pose in order to receive belly rubs. Reader, I gave him his belly rubs.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 12:11 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


ok got it, crispr is evolution
posted by adept256 at 2:03 PM on June 18


Doggie Purr is also known to do the most ridiculous submissive pose in order to receive belly rubs.

Friend Dog #1 rolls onto his back, wiggles around, and rubs his front paws all over his face when he can stand it no longer and must have bellyrubs. It's the silliest thing. (But, occasionally, it's a FAKEOUT and he actually wants you to PLAY CHASE!) Friend Dog #2, who has the advantage of being 1/10 his size, simply hops onto a lap and looks at you expectantly. I assume he works these eyebrow muscles.
posted by praemunire at 2:11 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


ok got it, crispr is evolution

kind of a weird hill to die on after a bunch of ppl took the time to answer your question but you do you
posted by lazaruslong at 2:25 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


adept256: ok got it, crispr is evolution

Crispr is a source of mutations; mutations are part of evolution. It's like UV light or nuclear radiation, just less random. It's not the whole of evolution, but - if it's used on a germ line, or it causes cancer - it's part of evolution.
posted by clawsoon at 2:32 PM on June 18


Darwin used variation under domestication as motivation for his theory of evolution; it was in fact the first chapter (after the introduction) in On the Origin of Species which he published sooner than he'd have liked in order to scoop Alfred Wallace. Darwin subsequently published The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication to expand on ideas which he felt he had not sufficiently explored.

Domestication is very much an example of evolution. You just substitute "human selection" for "natural selection." Ultimately it doesn't matter how selection happens, as long as it leads to differential propagation of the traits that are selected for. More specifically, domestication can be seen as a case of coevolution, which Michael Pollan describes engagingly in The Botany of Desire.
posted by sjswitzer at 2:33 PM on June 18 [6 favorites]


I just found this fascinating PNAS article on an evolutionary view of domestication. It talks about natural vs. artificial selection, domestication and its origins, dogs, cats and much more.

On cats, it says,
Cats live a solitary existence and defend exclusive territories (making them more attached to places than to people). Furthermore, cats do not perform directed tasks and their actual utility is debatable, even as mousers (34). [In this latter role, terrier dogs and the ferret (a domesticated polecat) are more suitable.] Accordingly, there is little reason to believe an early agricultural community would have actively sought out and selected the wildcat as a house pet. Rather, the best inference is that wildcats exploiting human environments were simply tolerated by people and, over time and space, they gradually diverged from their “wild” relatives (35, 36). Thus, whereas adaptation in barnyard animals and dogs to human dominion was largely driven by artificial selection, the original domestic cat was a product of natural selection.
(I have a cat meowing at me right now and we rather more than tolerate each other. She is asking for something, but I can't figure out what it is. The theory of neoteny suggests to me that a cat's meow is basically saying, "mom." Mom. MoOoom, Mommmm, Mom! Although it's clear that cats are very attached to place, they are also just oversized kitties who are very attached to their "moms.")
posted by sjswitzer at 4:06 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Ah yes, Countess Elena, that's the non-headtilt baroo.

I have a Peke (well, okay, I have a furry smooshfaced mutt that the shelter insisted was a Peke) and the combination of big eyes and wrinkly face makes this move *devastating*.

Most frequently deployed in the Quest For Cheese. Usually successful.
posted by jrochest at 7:51 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


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