Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sometimes the "accepted wisdom" is right: Dogs as wingmen

This blog, and science in general, tends to be all about debunking false ideas.  The main reason for this is the way that science works... it is much more simple and direct to disprove something than to prove it (the latter of which, most would argue is impossible, and that we must merely accept the failure of numerous, rigorous attempts at disproof as proof).  After all, every good experiment should be the best possible attempt to disprove one's hypothesis (just ask Karl Popper).  The other reason we don't hear much about things we already know (or think we know) being "proved" (or rather supported by objective data) is because they lead us to say "yeah, but we already knew that!", and thus quickly dismiss it.  Though, sometimes, it's entertaining to hear that the science backs up something you always suspected, and this is one of those studies: if you are a guy, and you have a dog, having your puppy pal around when you ask girls for their phone numbers will increase your success (that is, in the experiment, the same guy got more digits with Fido than when he was out there without his furry wingman by his side).  Now, you may wonder, is this because having a dog around has some effect on the guy (making him more confident or act nicer, talk in a different tone, etc.) OR, is it that the presence of the dog has an effect on the person with whom the experimenter is interacting (i.e. do women perceive men in a different light simply because they have a dog?).  To try and answer this question, the researchers conducted several variations of the experiment, and in one such iteration, the experimenter dropped his change in a bus station and recorded whether or not anyone stopped to assist him.  When he had a dog with him, many more people stopped to help him pick up his change than when he did not have a dog.  While this still doesn't rule out that the experimenter could be acting differently in the presence of the dog (perhaps in terms of body language), it does suggest that the effect of the dog's presence is more likely felt by the respondent rather than the dog owner.  Of course, regardless of the means, the end result appears to be that people are more likely to be nicer or in a more giving mood if they meet you with a dog rather than without one (here for another summary of the article).

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