Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Choosing Sides


I heard on the TV that dogs really are good at reading human emotions because they spend more time studying the right side of our faces, and that's what we do with each other, too. I was startled to realize that I actually do look at the right side of people's faces, which present at my left, and that I'd never noticed this before. I also chew my food on the left side and slouch to the left and my left breast is--well, let's just say it's closer to the ground now, and it's no wonder I tip over so often.

The phenomenon is called "left gaze bias" and the explanation is that our eyes flick to our companion's right side (left to us) because that's where all their emotions are displayed. The theory is that the left brain controls the right side of the body, and the right side controls the left, in those people whose bodies can be said to be responding to a brain at all. And presumably the left side of the brain is in charge of feelings, and leaks them out the right side of our faces. If you have any interest in knowing what's on someone's mind, which can come in handy if they want to murder you, for instance, you're more likely to make the gene pool cut by looking at his right side. All the strategy, the ambush plan and the sharp rock and the alibi and the like, are being worked out on the right side of the brain, but the murderous intent is totally happening on the left.

So somewhere along the evolutionary line, dogs learned where to look on a person to find out what was on his mind, and that means they are now exquisitely attuned to our emotions. Most people like that about dogs. They intuitively feel that their dogs understand them and sympathize with them and offer themselves up for comfort. As a mail carrier, I too learned to appreciate that dogs were able to gaze into my right eye and determine that I looked chewy-crunchy, with a salty finish.

Supposedly we only have left-gaze bias toward other humans, and not (say) paintings of people, or monkeys. (I will, however, note here that I reflexively look at Pootie's right eye button, and leave it at that. No one wants to be ambushed.)

We had a dog once, the cutest dog in the whole wide world, and she was very good at reading our emotions, but then again we aren't complicated people. She would cock her little head to the right and think "you look like you want a beer" and nail it most of the time. We would look at her and get a mixed message. "I like you," she emoted, "but I need to go outside now and climb over the hedge and go over
to the neighbor's house and knock, and he will give me a plateful of biscuits and gravy." It was nothing personal. She didn't care for kibble, even after the 25-pound bag of it we bought when she was little had aged nicely. From time to time we'd give in and feed her from the table, but we made up for it by teaching her to take whatever we gave her into the kitchen before eating it. So when she knocked at the front door after visiting the neighbor's house, she would bolt to the kitchen before yarfing up a quantity of biscuits and gravy that could not physically have fit in her body. Boomer and I both operated on the principle that you're not done eating until all the food is gone. It was our bond. We gazed into each other's right eyes in perfect understanding, and then one of us went and got the paper towels.

I have learned to be attuned to other people's dogs, too. For instance, I know exactly what the neighbor's dog is saying every day. He's saying "IT'S 7AM! IT'S 7AM! IT'S 7AM! IT'S 7AM! IT'S 7:01AM! IT'S 7:01AM! IT'S 7:01AM! IT'S 7:01..."

39 comments:

  1. Well, I've learned something. Apparently I gaze at the wrong side of anybody's face because I have never been able to read emotions or feelings or body language....nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

    "the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, so only left handed people are in their right minds."

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    1. I believe my dad thought that. Guess which was his dominant hand?

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  2. Boomer is the cutest dog, but those big soulful eyes in the first picture just melted my heart. And Pootie? There's something sinister in those eyes... I'm sure of it. I looked at both sides and shuddered at the message.

    Thanks for the smiles and grins this morning. I know your next door dog all too well. :-)

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    1. Pootie? Naw. He's a little self-centered, is all.

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  3. Well, dang, I've been doing it wrong all these years. Who knew? I guess the only reason I haven't been murdered yet is because I generally check their hands for weapons before I make eye contact.

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    1. With an intellect as sharp as yours, you don't need empathy. Carry on.

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  4. Do your sources say anything about which eye to look at if the person is left-handed? (And how to tell if the person is left-handed if they don't happen to be carrying a gun/knife/banana in their left hand at the time?

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    1. Left-handed people are shifty anyway. They don't want to be understood. The left hand holding the gun does tell you what you need to know, though.

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    2. So if we're ambidestrous we're permanently confused? Figures!

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    3. Shifty? oh dear. I have 6 left handers in my family.

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  5. This helps explain my dismal ability to understand women in my early years. And now excuse me while I check out my left testicle.

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  6. What is it with neighbors' dogs, anyway? My dog never barked.

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    1. At least, you couldn't hear him from work.

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  7. We live in an area where dogs and kids are all glued to some sort of indoor electronic world. We only get to hear the birds.
    I miss the sound of a bark now and then.

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  8. I think a healthy dose of intuition might help with interpreting the right eye messages for those of us who are left-gaze-bias challenged - unless, of course, that message is coupled with a wildly waving hand clasping a knife & making stabbing motions. But then, seeing as these thoughts concur with River's, maybe it's just being Australian that's the problem??!!

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    1. There does seem to be a certain pattern developing, yes. Shoot, you people even have your stars hung upside-down.

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    2. And the toilets spiral backwards.

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    3. But we haven't got as far to fall ...

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  9. Ambush? Pootie? I can't imagine it. He's so cute and defenceless and little and cute and furry ... and cute. He would never.

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    1. I don't know about defenseless. He's cute as bejeebers. And he generally gets his way. I think the reason we come out okay is he has excellent taste in The Way Things Ought To Be.

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  10. I have always looked at the side of people's faces that is on MY right side which means I have been forever the oddball...... As far as I can tell this has not changed the quality of my life one way or t'other.

    How the hell much money did these damned studies cost us?

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    1. I'm just amazed you actually know what side you look on. Until I saw that documentary, I didn't realize that I looked at the left side. But I do. Maybe you're on a new evolutionary path, Lo!

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  11. Hmmm...I gave this thought and I am opposite ! Does that make me unique or just off kilter?

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  12. When I was a kid, I'd stand in the yard and bark at nothing all day. Sometimes it takes a while for the bicameral brain to kick in. I'm fine now. Good post!

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    1. So, now you stand in the yard and bark at something? It's an improvement.

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  13. Frozen with a cross-eyed stare as a child (though my mother warned me it would happen if I kept doing it), could explain my multiple personality disorder from getting mixed signals.

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    1. I want to hear more about your multiple personality disorder.

      I want to hear more about your multiple personality disorder.

      I want to hear more about your multiple personality disorder.

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  14. Knew a guy with a damaged left eye. never knew where to look when I talked to him.

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    1. That's really disconcerting, isn't it?

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  15. Yeah. He solved it by always talking to my boobs.

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  16. I always talk to your boobs too. They're at eye level.

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  17. Apparently people also find photos of others that show more of the left side of their face more appealing.

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    1. Interesting, because the left side of my face is peeling right now.

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