Animal caretakers and vegetarians are liable to be criticized for projecting human feelings onto animals that cannot feel them the way we do. These criticisms, which may be partly true (after all, as bipedal and massively social primates we experience reality in a very particular way) continue to be the sin of those who criticize: to affirm universal truths based on faith.
The truth is that none of us can enter the head of another living being, let alone if that living being is seven branches from our position in the evolutionary tree. He love between species It is a phenomenon of complicated study, especially when the behavior that one would expect from an animal emotionally involved with a human is very similar to the behavior that one would also expect from a living being that has learned to manipulate its caregiver for better treatment.
However, science provides us with tools knowing indirectly the cognitive and emotional phenomena that occur in other organisms. There is one study, in particular, that gives reason for optimism to anyone who believes that love between species exists.
To speak of love between species is to speak of reductionism
How can you to be studied scientifically love? To do this, there is no choice but to resort to a reasonable dose of reductionism. The sensations and moods of non-human animals are so different from ours that to study them we need to focus on the essential aspects that make them similar to us. In this case, breaking down reductionism means focusing on a specific and objective aspect associated with moods related to love or affection in our species as well as in many others. This is usually done through research focused on the study of hormonal fluxes.
Love between species is such a broad concept that it must be reduced to very specific operational terms if we are to study it. At this point, it is important to measure oxytocin levels.
The dog-human bond
Oxytocin is a hormone associated with the creation of emotional ties trusting relationships and maternal behaviors. It is present in a wide variety of living beings, and therefore oxytocin levels are an appropriate indicator for quantitatively estimating the moods we link to love.
With an analysis based on the levels of this substance, you can indirectly know what the animals are going through by interacting with their human caregivers, and vice versa, through the use of a same meter for both species.
Based on this premise, a team of Japanese researchers set out to study the emotional states that are triggered in the bodies of domestic dogs when interacting with their caregivers. To do this, they let dogs and humans interact in pairs to collect urine samples from dogs and their playmates.
The results published in the journal Science, although still based solely on the measurement of a chemical, tell us about animals that form powerful emotional bonds with homo sapiens. When dogs look humans in the eye, both species begin to produce more oxytocin. This fact is more easily explained by the hypothesis of “love between species” than by that of animals taking advantage of their masters, since the experiment does not involve any material reward for dogs.
Puppies and Emotional Loops
Oxytocin, like all hormones, generates a dynamic of loops, because it is both a method of sending instructions from the brain and a substance that informs the brain of what is happening in the body. In the case of dogs and their owners look into each other’s eyesthe researchers also documented the existence of a loop: the fact that the animal pair spends more time looking at the other (caused by higher than normal levels of oxytocin) causes the latter to generate more of oxytocin, which in turn at the same time means a tendency to look at each other longer, and so on.
The existence of this hormonal loop, typical of the complex relationships that are established between humans, is not so well documented in the relationships between our species and others, among other things because there are few animals whose habits facilitate easy and sustained interaction with organisms. who share little evolution. However, this research supports the idea that the hormonal feedback process can be found far beyond our own evolutionary family.
A special case
Of course, while what is documented in the roles of these researchers can be interpreted as an example of interspecies love (or affective states associated with love), it does not mean that all species pairs are also likely to be emotionally involved in the same way. After all, dogs are a special case for learning to coexists very well with sapiens. As in almost all fields, science progresses by leaps and bounds and few results can be generalized to a large number of cases.
This research also supports the idea that the evolutionary path of domestic dogs may have prepared them particularly well to get along with us. The scientists repeated the experiment, replacing the dogs with wolves and by studying the behavior and hormone levels of these carnivores, they found that they couldn’t stand looking into the eyes of caregivers so much, and that their oxytocin levels didn’t rise in a way comparable to that of their domestic parents.
It should be noted that the dog and the wolf are part of the same species, so the difference between them could be due to a process of recent adaptation which took place in dogs and not in their wild brothers and sisters. Dogs may have developed a particular interest in the human face and certain baskets, but wolves would not have had this need. Or maybe, who knows, the key to these different results is that humans don’t look at some dogs the same way as others.