Many of us have pets. What is most important: looks, brains or personality? All have played a part in endearing dogs to humans, but a new study lends weight to the view that a hardwired personality trait sociability, to be specific has been the crucial factor in the domestication of man’s best friend.
The study pinpoints the increased social tendencies shown by dogs compared with their closest wild relatives, wolves, to variations in two genes, known as GTF2I and GTF2IRD1. Intriguingly, the deletion of these genes in humans has been linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS), a congenital disease that leads to hyper-social behavior.
It has been previously theorized that the behavioral divergences between dogs and wolves are due to dogs having evolved higher social cognition, but the researchers behind this new study point to mounting evidence of human-socialized wolves demonstrating equal or greater socio-cognitive performance to domestic dogs, while dogs have a clear edge in exaggerated gregariousness, referred to as hyper-sociability.
To reach their conclusions, the team of researchers led by Bridgett von Holdt, of Princeton University, investigated the sociability of a group of domestic canines and human-socialized grey wolves using a combination of DNA analysis and behavioral data.
Their paper notes that little is still known about the genetics underpinning the behavioral traits associated with canine domestication compared to, say, the genetics responsible for differences in physical traits like fur color and size.
The DNA analysis focused on a specific chromosomal region that is positively selected for in domestic species of dog ergo, it is passed on through the population as an evolutionary advantageous trait.
The results and conclusions are noteworthy because they support an alternative theory for the behavioral divergence between dogs and wolves, in which the spread of genes through breeding was the primary factor that allowed the former species to coexist successfully with humans.