There are few things scarier than a guy. Aware of this fact, scientists from the University of Jaen in Spain wondered: What if that guy were walking a little dog? Is that still scary, or not as much? And their results are, oh my god … exactly as you might suspect.
Authors of the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, enlisted 300 women to give feedback on photos of a man and a woman — hired actors — alone, and the same man and woman with a small or medium-sized dog. (Apparently previous studies have shown that images with large dogs inspire fear in people, which makes me sad and is fucked up, but is beside the point at the moment.)
The images showed either a dogless person with a pixelated face, or a person with a pixelated face walking a dog on a leash. Some were taking in during the day, others at night. Though the dogs were small and medium-sized, they were all adult dogs, not puppies. The study’s participants were asked to imagine they were alone and saw the person in the photograph walking toward them, and to record their emotional response to that imagined scenario.
“When actors were accompanied by medium- or small-sized dogs, they elicited more positive reactions than when they were alone,” the researchers said. “Specifically, participants felt more positive (i.e. more valence), more in control (i.e. more dominance), calmer (i.e. less arousal), and safer when they observed urban public scenes containing a dog.”
The results of this study are being spread online as evidence that large men should put small dogs in their online dating profile photos (in order to, I guess, trick people into feeling more safe around them) (even though the actor used in the experiment was only 5’4”) (and even though the results were same for the female actor) but the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. I don’t think we should be using dogs to trick people. And I feel like scientific energy was misfocused here. Scientists should be doing other things. We didn’t need a study about whether people are less scary while walking a funny little dog, we could have just guessed and come to the same result. Go study how to stop all the turtles from being born female — now that I’m worried about.
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to instead offer this takeaway, regarding the results of this study: Go take your dog for a walk. I bet they’ll enjoy it, and as an added benefit, if a stranger sees you they’ll feel less like they are about to be murdered. Thank you.