Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tonik, Dog with Human Face, Up for Adoption

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tonik, Dog with Human Face, Up for Adoption

Article excerpt

Tonik, an 11-pound, 1-year old dog available for adoption from the Homeward Bound Animal Welfare Group in Mishawka, Indiana, is looking for a loving and responsible household, preferably without children. He is part poodle, part Shih Tzu, and, if his photo is any indication, part human.

Yes, it's true: Tonik's face, at least in this photo, looks very much like that of a mildly peeved H. sapiens. Indeed, the resemblance is striking enough to prompt a writer for the Huffington Post to lead their story with, "It's just one of those things that are like, 'Whoa, dude.'"

But how, exactly, did Tonik's face get so . . . dude-like? Well, it's true that humans and dogs do share some genes: our two species likely have a common ancestor dating back to the Cretaceous era. And it's also true that Shih Tzus have been bred for their flat faces (many Shih Tzus have trouble breathing because of this). But Tonik's humanoid visage has much less to do with canine physiology than it does with human psychology.

Anthropomorphism, the tendency to ascribe human traits to animals and objects, was first described by the traveling Greek poet Xenophanes of Colophon. Xenophanes, who lived in the 5th and 6th century BC, criticized the polytheism of his contemporaries, noting that Ethiopians described their gods as snub-nosed and black, while the Thracians described theirs as blue-eyed and red-haired. If horses and oxen could draw pictures, Xenophanes scoffed, they would draw deities that resemble horses and oxen.

Anthropomorphism is universal. Even the most hard-nosed rationalists among us cannot stop themselves from doing it. But in 2007, psychologists Adam Waytz, Nicholas Epley and John T. Cacioppo found that people who feel socially isolated are more likely to anthropomorphize. They write:

"From the elderly person who treats his or her cat as a bit too much like a spouse to cinematic depictions such as Cast Away in which the shipwrecked protagonist (Tom Hanks) anthropomorphizes a volleyball (named Wilson) after being marooned on an island, those who are lacking human connection appear to seek it out in nonhuman connections."

Perhaps even more universal than our tendency to ascribe human traits to nonhumans is our tendency to detect human faces in all manner of things. …

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