thank your dog for your white eyes?

recently, eyes seem to be a reoccurring topic in my life.

just the other day, while picking up a great deal at the convention center, a forklift guy who was trying to locate my dad, when asked to describe who he was looking for, offered: “the guy with the blue eyes”. this was odd to me at the time for two reasons.

  1. i don’ t recall anyone ever using this as the initial descriptor of my dad. its true, he does have striking blue eyes. but generally peoples’ descriptors would be more like moderate build, brown hair or wearing the blue shirt or something a bit more general.
  2. i don’t recall any guys ever describing another guy to me by eye color. maybe this is common, it just hasn’t been my experience.

in a later discussion of the topic with some friends, one commented that it could be a cultural or genetic-makeup issue, so that if a person were from an area or a culture that doesn’t have heavy exposure to that particular genetic trait, in this case light colored eyes, that instinticually these traits are more notable to the observer.

i hadn’t though about it before, but its a great point (even if this was/wasn’t the case in this instance. the gentleman who was the source of the description was columbian. i’ve known many green/hazel eyed columbians, but not blue eyed. i’d be interested to find out if this is representative).

anyways, what does this have to do with dogs?
glad you asked.

a new theory, recently published in American Scientist by Pat Shipman:

  1. “modern humans” (ie look like us) rapidly grew in population, while neanderthal’s dwindled
  2. possibly/probably many reasons for why, but a great hypothesis is domesticated hunting dogs, improving hunting productivity. recent digs have put domesticated dogs far earlier than previous and has shown burial rituals and other evidence that dogs were present and not treated as food.
  3. humans are the only primate that have white around the eyes, and have eyelids that expose more of the eye. that contrast allows an observer to determine the direction a human is looking from some distance. humans are very responsive to gaze, and will look where others are looking. even infants do it better than most other primates.
  4. dogs also are responsive to human gaze, even if the human is on television (with conditions).
  5. humans may have developed the white-eye to facilitate in cooperative hunting (hunting is a quiet game). this may have led to joint development with dogs and humans to continue this evolutionary hunting improvements related to gaze.

pretty neat idea!

go check out the full article (i certainly can’t do it justice). there’s some neat pictures as well!

i can tell you with certainty that my girlfriend’s dog watches my gaze with great interest and attention (especially when its toward him lol).


H/T Andrew Sullivan
Original Source: American Scientist

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