Nasal oxytocin treatment biases dogs' visual attention and emotional response toward positive human facial expressions

Sanni Somppi, Heini Törnqvist, J. Topál, Aija Koskela, Laura Hänninen, Christina M. Krause, Outi Vainio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The neuropeptide oxytocin plays a critical role in social behavior and emotion regulation in mammals. The aim of this study was to explore how nasal oxytocin administration affects gazing behavior during emotional perception in domestic dogs. Looking patterns of dogs, as a measure of voluntary attention, were recorded during the viewing of human facial expression photographs. The pupil diameters of dogs were also measured as a physiological index of emotional arousal. In a placebo-controlled within-subjects experimental design, 43 dogs, after having received either oxytocin or placebo (saline) nasal spray treatment, were presented with pictures of unfamiliar male human faces displaying either a happy or an angry expression. We found that, depending on the facial expression, the dogs' gaze patterns were affected selectively by oxytocin treatment. After receiving oxytocin, dogs fixated less often on the eye regions of angry faces and revisited (glanced back at) more often the eye regions of smiling (happy) faces than after the placebo treatment. Furthermore, following the oxytocin treatment dogs fixated and revisited the eyes of happy faces significantly more often than the eyes of angry faces. The analysis of dogs' pupil diameters during viewing of human facial expressions indicated that oxytocin may also have a modulatory effect on dogs' emotional arousal. While subjects' pupil sizes were significantly larger when viewing angry faces than happy faces in the control (placebo treatment) condition, oxytocin treatment not only eliminated this effect but caused an opposite pupil response. Overall, these findings suggest that nasal oxytocin administration selectively changes the allocation of attention and emotional arousal in domestic dogs. Oxytocin has the potential to decrease vigilance toward threatening social stimuli and increase the salience of positive social stimuli thus making eye gaze of friendly human faces more salient for dogs. Our study provides further support for the role of the oxytocinergic system in the social perception abilities of domestic dogs. We propose that oxytocin modulates fundamental emotional processing in dogs through a mechanism that may facilitate communication between humans and dogs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1854
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume8
Issue numberOCT
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 17 2017

Fingerprint

Facial Expression
Oxytocin
Nose
Dogs
Pupil
Therapeutics
Arousal
Placebos
Intranasal Administration
Smiling
Social Perception
Nasal Sprays
Social Behavior
Neuropeptides
Mammals

Keywords

  • Domestic dog
  • Emotional arousal
  • Eye movements
  • Facial expressions
  • Nasal oxytocin
  • Pupil diameter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

Cite this

Nasal oxytocin treatment biases dogs' visual attention and emotional response toward positive human facial expressions. / Somppi, Sanni; Törnqvist, Heini; Topál, J.; Koskela, Aija; Hänninen, Laura; Krause, Christina M.; Vainio, Outi.

In: Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 8, No. OCT, 1854, 17.10.2017.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Somppi, Sanni ; Törnqvist, Heini ; Topál, J. ; Koskela, Aija ; Hänninen, Laura ; Krause, Christina M. ; Vainio, Outi. / Nasal oxytocin treatment biases dogs' visual attention and emotional response toward positive human facial expressions. In: Frontiers in Psychology. 2017 ; Vol. 8, No. OCT.
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