Question of the Week

Do people look like their pets?

Sun, 17th Jan 2010

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Luke McNeil asked:

Itís often said that people resemble their pets or vice versa; is this a phenomenon that's been studied? Do people choose pets that resemble them, or is this a matter of us noticing when people do resemble their pets and forgetting when they don't...?


We put this question to Dr Lance Workman, psychologist at Bath Spa University:

I think there are two reasons why pets look like their owners.  A first reason is that we tend to buy pets, and dogs in particular, that fit in with our lifestyle.  So if you are an active robust person with lots of energy, who likes to go outdoors a lot, then you may well buy a dog that is likewise full of energy.  Itís a bit like selecting a spouse.  Itíll work really well if you find someone who fits in with your lifestyle.  Thatís the first reason. 

" alt="Bill and Buddy" />I think the second reason is a more subtle one and that is that I think weíre drawn to others that look a bit like ourselves.  Itís a bit of an old Freudian notion, but I think it does stand up to scrutiny.  So, at some subconscious level when we chose a pet, weíre looking for something that in some way reflects ourselves.  I think thereís both of these reasons going on there. 

I think you begin to look for similarities rather than differences.  So I think if we say, ďOh, hereís Fred and his Jack Russel - don't they look similar?Ē  You're already led along that path.  Thereís something that some people call confirmation bias.  For example, if you go to a fortune teller and they say six things out of 20 that are correct, you go away and you remember those six things and you forget the other 14. 

My own study suggests that people get this right about 2/3 of the time, maybe 60% or something like that.  So thereís a good 30 to 40% of the time they are wrong in matching pets up to their owners.

I think, again, we remember the ones we get right.  But 2/3 is well above chance, so itís a mixture of some real truth in the idea that we look like our pets and the fact that we look for evidence that supports that case.

Diana -   So, although we do tend to remember better those pets which resembled their owners, it looks like many pet buyers will tend to choose animals which look a little bit like they do.  And in Lanceís research, he tested this by showing 70 volunteers photos of dogs and dog owners and asked them to match one to the other, and 60% of the time, they got it right.


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The human mind is always on the look out for faces - hence car's looking like they have a face and faces in clouds etc.

My guess is that when we look at a pet and it's owner we tend to interpret the animals face in a way that makes us think that the animal and owner look alike.

We could try testing this by taking two groups.  The first we ask to rate how similar a dog is to it's owner using pictures.  The second group gets pictures of all the animals and dogs and has to say which dog belongs to whom. phatboy, Sun, 17th Jan 2010

my boss has a dog and she looks like........ geo driver, Tue, 19th Jan 2010

I don't agree completely with the psychologist' answer, I think a pet really get something from its owner; I believe they can sense the owner feelings and, in some away, fit to them and in this way resemble a bit the owner. lightarrow, Sun, 7th Feb 2010

Sure they might sense the owners feelings, but how is that going to change the way they look?

Or do you mean they just mirror the facial expression of the owner Madidus_Scientia, Sun, 7th Feb 2010

No, I mean what also children do: they feel their parents' feelings and so they take their models, their behaviours. lightarrow, Tue, 9th Feb 2010

But behaviour isn't appearance Madidus_Scientia, Wed, 10th Feb 2010

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