When you gaze into your dog’s face and he gazes back at you, do you ever wonder what is going on?
The ‘mutual gaze’ between individuals is an important aspect of social communication and is essential to establishing intimacy. Such gaze-mediated bonding also occurs between humans and dogs and is thought to involve brain systems that trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone known to be involved in social bonding. With a view to increasing our understanding of the bond between people and their pets, experts in the area of human-animal interaction (HAI) at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, together with an international and cross-disciplinary group of authors, including collaborators at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, have written and edited a pioneering new book entitled ‘The Social Neuroscience of Human-Animal Interaction’. This publication is the result of a workshop between WALTHAM and partners at the National Institute of Health, a collaboration that has brought about a multi-million dollar program of HAI research.
Humans have a wonderful capacity to develop and engage in social interactions both with other humans, and with other species, most obviously companion animals such as dogs and cats and it is becoming clear that the benefits of pet ownership are wide-ranging, encompassing positive effects in both physical and mental health, as well as societal benefits such as increasing social connections and support within communities. Although we have been aware of these benefits for some time, the mechanisms driving these benefits are far from clear. This important new book advances our knowledge about HAI, by applying the understanding of how biological systems influence social interactions and behaviour, and how these social structures and processes impact the brain and biology.
Bringing these fields of scientific endeavour together in this book is a critical step in sharing the science underlying how we interact and bond with our pets, and how we can work towards creating a better world for pets.