Women more likely than men to employ baby talk towards puppy-eyed dogs

Puppy dog eyes are more effective in getting women to become maternal and speak baby talk than men, according to a study in which scientists analysed men’s and women’s voices when responding to pictures of dogs with variable-sized eyes. Dogs and babies are more likely to respond to baby talk in women by the way! It works both ways.

When a dog displayed ‘puppy eyes’ (larger eyes) women were more likely to slip into ‘pet-directed speech’ as the scientists call it. This is baby talk basically which is characterised by high and low pitch.

When dogs presented eyes of any type or size to men, they were less likely to adopt “doggy talk” or “baby talk”.

The study was led by Doctor Holly Root-Gutteridge, a dog behaviourist and a bioacoustics expert based at the University of Lincoln in the UK.

Puppy eyes are very enticing and they elicit baby talk in women but not men
Puppy eyes are very enticing and they elicit baby talk in women but not men. Image: MikeB under license.
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The study is entitled “The Puss in Boots Effect: Dog Eye Size Influences Pet-directed Speech in Women”. Twenty-one men and 24 women participated in the study. Photographs of digitally enlarged and reduced eyes of 12 dog breeds were presented to them.

Puppy dog eyes and neoteny

Doctor Holly said that: “We were interested in the whole thing about puppy dog eyes and neoteny, where juvenile-looking features are more appealing to humans, and we wondered if that leads to people using more of the funny, silly voice to dogs.”

She added that: “We know dogs respond to this pet-directed speech, but we were interested in what is actually making us do this. Is it just the eyes getting bigger that makes us feel they look more baby-like so we use baby-talk?”

In order to make the photographs to test the response, they took stock images of dogs and photo-edited their eyes by reducing the size by 15% or enlarging them by 15% and 30%. They tested the response of the participants to these altered images.

As perhaps might be expected, big eyes resulted in the dog being deemed cuter and younger and as mentioned a dog with these large puppy eyes were more likely to elicit a change in the way women spoke to the dog.

Doctor Holly added that, “Eyes getting bigger definitely did make women respond more when we looked at the voices. Women increased their pitch range, so they went up and down more, but men did not alter their voices at all,”

Difference between men and women

She said that the main point of the study is that women but not men use baby talk to communicate with animals depending on the configuration of their eyes. She added that “Women were producing really high tones of voice and their range went up massively. They were producing much more exaggerated pet-directed speech.”

The conclusion is that men and women regard cuteness in different ways. When the eyes were enlarged too much, the appearance became unsettling which is also to be expected. When the eyes are unnaturally large, “women speak with a less exaggerated vocal range to the dogs…”, said a co-author, a doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex, Gemma Forman.


This is more likely to occur with dog breeds that have already protruding and large eyes such as the French bulldog, Pomeranian and pug.

French bulldog

Which leads us to believe that the popular French Bulldog may not be as cute as many people believe. These are the flat-faced brachycephalic (round headed) breeds about which a lot has been written recently particularly now The Kennel Club’s Crufts dog show has just occurred.

In that show, a French Bulldog won a utility dog breed award and there was some consternation among animal advocates because there are many people who argue that the French Bulldog should be phased out and should not be a recognised breed because of their extreme inherited unhealthiness and short life spans seven years.

Goden retriever

Under the testing procedure of this study, the golden retriever came out top while the pug and Pomeranian were less desirable.

The study has been published online in the journal Interaction Studies: Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems.

RELATED: Revisiting the “two talking cats” video and understanding what they are saying

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