Friday, July 22, 2011

Question of the Day: Selective Breeding Of Foxes and Dogs

In NOVA's documentary Dogs Decoded, scientists attempt to breed out aggressive behavior in wild foxes in order to domesticate them like dogs. They selectively bred the foxes (the most calm of each litter were bred with each other, and the most aggressive with each other) and after only 8 generations, they successfully domesticated   the calmer foxes. They noticed that the foxes that were bred to be calmer also had shorter legs, whiter hair, while the foxes bred based on aggression were darker, had longer legs, and bushy tails.

When dogs were domesticated from grey wolves, they also had a physical change: a shorter snout, shorter legs, and a sloping forehead. These myriad of changes came with changes in their behavior. For example, dogs intuitively know how to read human faces, for example. Dogs play fetch and respond to pointing. Wolves do not have any of these abilities, even when raised from birth in a human household and trained like a dog. Even within the dog species, each breed has its unique temperament to go along with its unique physical traits. The question of the day is: Do you think physical characteristics are intrinsically linked to mental characteristics?

Dogs Decoded:

75 scientific replies:

GMSoccerPicks said...

This probably wont get picked, but what the heck. While this might be true for some animal species, i dont think its true for humans. There are some patterns that repeat themselves withing certain demographic. For example very short people tend to have a short fuse or bad tempered. While this is clearly related, it has more to do with the kind of social interaction that that kind of people has with regular sized ones, and how each other react in presence of the other. I dont believe that in isolation that would be like that, but then again i dont think it even makes sense to study humans in isolation. I hope thats not too confusing, English is not my mother language and sometimes it gets difficult to make myself clear when tryin to explain something complex.

xxmugenxx said...

very interesting stuff!

poorfags said...

Maybe in animals, but not in humans.

Numinus said...

I think it might be true in some animals. But maybe not humans. Not really sure though...

ready to grow said...

good reply GMSoccerPicks. but maybe it would be true for humans too. sure, sometimes children end up being completely different than their parents after they grow up...but most times they sort of become just like their parents. I think the saying goes.."the apple doesn't fall far from the tree". so I think breeding people with the same type of character and looks for that matter will produce more of the same.

SlogBlog11 said...

Humans are animals. We have the same instincts, the same sub concious urges and desires. We might live in suits but we're no less wild than a lion or honey badger.

Al3xaG said...

From a pure and only genetic point fo view, yeah, if the human races were isolated it would be clear to see, but since there have been happening a lot of mixes from ages ago, all the human races share similar characteristics.

Sacred Bob said...

Of course it would. You can tell a lot about person from just looking at their facial features. Same with race.. the environment in which different races evolved required different traits for survival. Not just physical, but mental too.

Sacred Bob said...

And no, I'm not racist.

Gryt said...

I think that your mentality can control physical characteristics, but may not always correlate with them. If someone is an aggressive person they might be more muscular as they want to use the aggression in a sport or something. A more thought oriented person might put all their energy toward becoming smarter. This doesn't mean that all agressive people are going to be muscular or all thinkers aren't going to be muscular, but they certainly can control their physical characteristics

DM said...

Blew my mind, wish i could completely understand this.

Samuel Morales Bender said...

Woow amazing post, i didn't knew it, maybe the same happens with humans, there are things that criminal people have in common.

Timberman said...

It's weird to see a complete change in an animals demeanor in such short time.

R6blogs said...

That's some amazing information

Blogsberg said...

Some people say there are different mentalities in different countries, but I don't know how true this is.

Desk said...

I think they are.

Sebastian Arango said...

I think that the mentality and way of doing the things is almost always related to the society and not to the physical.
Nice post :D

Haunter said...

With certain physical features, yes. Features like a prominent brow and jawline are signatures of higher levels of testosterone which equates to a tendency towards higher levels of aggression.

It's hard to say how valuable this really is because it is only a tendency. A person can have this tendency and be perfectly even tempered while a person without this tendency could demonstrate extremely aggressive behavior.

I think this comes as a result of our societies evolving so much faster than our bodies could ever hope to. Our bodies are basically in this awkward evolutionary transitional period where we have these innate antiquated behaviors. Behaviors that at one point in time were very important now at times put us in direct conflict with the ways of modern life.

That's why I say when dealing with humans and tendencies it's best to take it with a grain of salt. It's useful information to have, but mostly on a personal level so you can be mindful of your own tendencies.

This to me helps explain how a person could be genetically predisposed to behave a certain way and yet find themselves doing the opposite. A shining example is how as men our bodies tell us to mate with...pretty much everything while society pushes us towards monogamy and marriage and so on. At one point we needed to have 10 babies because if we were lucky only 7 of them would die before reaching adulthood, but in the age of modern medicine this simply isn't an issue anymore.

paulz said...

Amazing information :)

FinBis said...

Mind and body are closely related, so I wouldn't discard at all the possibility of different mindsets and behaviors to in the long term influence physical aspects. Seems like in animals its somewhat visible the change physically as their behavior changes as well, although the changes might have been related more to the fact that they no longer needed to hunt per example, as humans fed them. So it might not be totally a behavior change that triggered the rest but Im sure its related as well.

Kingmush said...

Hm.. very interesting question. The results of the study certainly point to them being related, but if they are related I'd say it's related more to the evolutionary tract of the species in which the more aggressive wolves having the darker fur and longer legs could say fight more/hunt more, whereas the tamer ones didn't need those physical features as they weren't coded for it.

Supernova said...

I think specific physical strengths or weaknesses could in time contribute to personality traits and/or temperaments, but I think they are more influenced by genetic predispositions and socialization.

Charles Godfrey said...

The problem is that after a while all you're doing is inbreeding which, as I understand it, leads to genetic problems. I think a study like that is kind of dangerous, even if it has good intentions.

In answer to your question, I think more aggressive specimens are going to have bigger, stronger bodies. If not, natural selection would get rid of them. If you're aggressive but have no body to back it up you're just asking for trouble.

GENETICS said...

@Charles Godfrey: I was afraid of that too, and suspect, but there is no interbreeding. They had hundreds of different silver foxes all not closely related to each other. They said the aggressive ones had more of a hormone or something, I think it was adrenaline.

LegendsParody said...

I think it does have an effect on humans too, Considering humans are still an animal. Aggression gives motivation to kill and being able to kill makes one a predator. And to become a predator you need skills and develop your body to adopt to it, Compared to local humans who just do jobs instead of hunts to get food. Sometimes It's not only being domesticated because by how their act on where they are, configures them. This shows that all organisms have the ability to adapt. And on humans, It's not only emotional or mental it's also due to our surroundings.

hommakesgames said...

This is a really interesting question. I do believe that just as different selective pressures have resulted in different physical features in different groups of people, I think that mental and emotional characteristics in some part are determined by genetics and so would be subject to the same selective pressures. But I think human behaviour and personality is such a complex combination of genetics and experience that you can't definitively say people with certain physical characteristics or from a certain group will always exhibit associated mental or emotional characteristics.

JGuevara said...

My opinion, I believe that it all depends on the environment anyone is raised in being animal or human. How well they are raised and showed right from wrong plays a big factor in the mentality the person or animal has. I know you can't control what they end up doing with their actions, but the input you put can lead them in the right direction. Humans have the power to think logically, animals just have instinct, although some believe animals can think logically who knows. Great post!

leanmeansteen said...

there's definitely some sort of genetics + mysticism behind clubbed thumbs aka murderers thumbs!!!

Randall A. said...

I believe that the animals are like that because of the primal response of the other animals to it, not because it is sensible, so no.

SoreLosersGaming said...

I think that physical and mental characteristics are definitely linked in some way as an organism evolves. Mutations that are "favourable" during evolution are going to somehow give that organism an advantage, an advantage that may be based on something that organism likes/wants to do based on its mental characteristics.

GENETICS said...

@SoreLosersGaming. I didn't think about personality and temperament was advantageous evolution-wise. But I suspect it's very possible.

GENETICS said...

@SoreLosersGaming I'm going to add you to the blogroll for contributing insightful commentary. Hope you get more readers this way!

To Tipota said...

Very interesting post mate, while reading I was thinking of various kinds of dogs too. I mean that pitbulls are aggressive while chow-chow's are mostly calm and friendly. I have also questioned myself about foxes and how come they haven't been domesticated yet since they are not as dangerous as wolves. Anyhow, really nice post mate, i'll follow your blog.

Dwrek said...

All I know is I hate people that bring Pitbulls around my family.

Cid said...

I think there is a subtle connection betweeen physical apperance and attitude or mental characteristics. In fact everything depends on the enviroment, which has a crucial role in developing specific traits (ex. being short, then bullyied in childhood can turn in mid-life into agressive behaviours, escapism, low self-esteem etc.). It's kind of related to animals, but once more, I think that enviromnent is pretty much more involved in that process.

Cid said...

@ To Tipota - I just looked at your comment, and... I partly disagree! Many small dogs act more aggressive because of they size. The mechanism is simple: smaller = louder. You see, big dogs are manifesting their power by its size and posture, the smaller animals must bluff. Of course chow-chows are cute, but chiuauas and poodles - man, they are born fighters. They like to bite, bark and scare others...

Bigshanks BSc said...

Its a complicated topic, you could probably breed humans to the desired characteristics but you'll always have anomalies, males with high testosterone are known to be more dominant and perform better etc. so you could try and amplify this

Pieter said...

This is a really interesting blog!
We could have foxes as pets now :D
+1 and followed.

Mike said...

The question you posed was kind of a "chicken and the egg" question. I'd say aggression probably came before physical traits meant to convey it. Good post!

Jason said...

This is great! Loved reading it, thanks for updating

BDTC said...

That was quite the read actually, but I think that humans don't have the physical appearance that conveys certain behavior.

I want a White Fox now :x

Shaw said...

Maybe, but I don't think it's restricted to ethnicity within humans. You expect a muscle head to be more aggressive because of all the testosterone, and a weak guy to be the opposite. We expect women with naturally provocative bodies to have more active libido's than plain chicks.

BigOryx said...

i think physical characteristics definitely are related to mental characteristics. you know alot about a person by just seeing him if your sensitive. also i think a lot of our behaviour is controlled by our genes

Javier said...

This is amazing. I don't think the physical traits themselves are related to behavior. BUT I do think that the genes that cause the physical change can have side effects like behavioral changes due to their activation or deactivation.

Natural One said...

I saw this Nova episode, and not to seem cruel but people with down syndrome look and act the same, regardless of race ect.

Geojour said...

I saw this as well - it is a difficult question to answer without a tremendous amount of more-than-likely unethical testing to get to the real bottom.

blorriepoes said...

that is so interesting, thanks for sharing this innformation!

PabloO said...

Interesting read. I won't belive this applies to human unless you give me enought documentation supporting this.

Publius said...

This is a complicated question, but certainly the bigger a person (or animal is) the more likely the creature will be confident in being aggressive. Big men, for example, are more likely to get in a fight if they feel that they should since they assume that they have a better chance of winning.

Skeng said...

I wonder if the changes in colouration and leg length etc as well as being more calm indicate a hormonal element.
Just as with XYY's (supermale's) they have an inherent increased level of aggression as well as being taller and larger than the majority of men. That's allegedly put down to increased level of various hormones such as testosterone and DHT.
Very interesting stuff!

hento said...

i always have noticed how dogs do understand "point" and other gestures we do, and wild animals never "understand" us, i have seen in on domesticated wild animal!, i didntknow it was a genetic thing!

azgrowl said...

its true its possible for both humans and animals i think if your lazy as a trait... ofc your gonna look lazy if your a gangster or whatever you will look like one

julianna1633 said...

My cousin raises wolves

Self Improvemen2 said...

Foxy fox. They are appealing animals.

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