The six faces you put on to communicate with your dog

The ‘special happy’ facial expression

When congratulating a dog for completing a great stretch or successfully reaching for a tennis ball, people often adopt the same high-pitched tone of voice as when talking to a baby.

However, scientists have now discovered for the first time that we not only sound the same when communicating with pets and babies, but also have the same facial expressions.

Baby and animal directed speech are well-known phenomena and involve adults using tones and gestures that they do not use when conversing with people of the same age.

A team of scientists from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, discovered that there are six expressions that people make when they are face to face with a canine and a baby.

“Fishface”, “pretend surprise” and “happy special” have been identified between parents and children before.

This study shows that these expressions are also used by adults who interact with dogs, as well as three more: “make surprise eyebrow”, “make surprise mouth” and “make happy surprise”.

The scientists recruited 42 people who had a child under the age of 18 months and a family dog ​​at home, in the first study of its kind.

The babies were between three and 17 months old, while the dogs were between one and 12 years old and included mixes, collies, dachshunds and poodles.

The interactions between the baby, the dog and another adult occurred in the volunteers’ homes and were recorded on camera. The adults behaved similarly when interacting with babies and dogs, but did not use the same faces when conversing with their peers.

The most common face that was extracted was the “special happy” expression which, according to the scientists, “is basically an intense Duchenne smile” with an open mouth.

“The Duchenne smile is described as a spontaneous and genuine expression of intense happy emotion that communicates strong social affiliation and interest,” the study says.

“Accompanied by an open mouth, the Duchenne smile is perceived as even happier compared to the closed-mouth version of the same smile.”

The popularity of this facial expression reveals that adults are willing to convey to babies and animals that they are happy and willing to participate.

“There is no question that such a smile has the potential to enhance positive interactions with a baby, and we can now extend this assumption to canine companions,” say the scientists.

Key part of human relationships with babies and pets

They add that faces are likely to be a key component of human relationships with our youth and our pets, and say that they are likely to be key to getting and keeping their attention; foster emotionally positive interactions; and strengthen social ties.

“Our study provides evidence for the first time that baby- and dog-directed communication can be characterized by similar specific facial expressions of female and male speakers,” the scientists write in the study, published in Scientific Reports.

“In addition to the three faces towards babies described above, here we have identified three novel expressions.

“Our results indicate that all six facial expressions are typical in both infant- and dog-directed communication, but rare or completely absent in adult-directed communication.”

Expressions most frequently adopted with the child

Animal behavior experts add that there are no facial expressions that are unique or reserved only for babies, since adults use the entire facial arsenal to communicate with both dogs and humans.

However, people adopted one of the six faces more often with a child than with a pet. There was no difference between men and women, the data shows.

Dr Anna Gergely, first author of the study, told The Telegraph that the exact purpose of facial expressions is still unknown.

“We still don’t know the exact function of the faces,” he said, adding that this is now being worked on.

“Facial prosody is a really understudied area and our paper is just a first step in uncovering these questions and hopefully our next studies will provide some answers.”

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