Why This Viral Dog's Face Looks Human, According to Science

You'll never see this picture the same.

A dog being described as “Nicolas Cage dressed as an ewok” has completely stupefied the internet for his human-like appearance. But there might be a scientific reason why we can’t help but think there’s a middle-aged man hiding underneath this fluffy veneer.

BuzzFeed News reports that Yogi, a one-year-old Shih-poo, has gone viral for reasons completely obvious to anyone who’s seen his photo. I mean, this is a person, right?

I repeat.

Yes, Yogi is a star. But why does he look so human? One reason is, of course, that Yogi is a human, trapped inside the mortal coil of a dog. That said, it’s probably more likely our brains are tricking us into believing that this very good boy is actually one of us.

There are years of research to suggest human brains recognize certain animals’ faces as “cute” or “human-like” in a phenomenon dubbed “baby schema.” Basically, humans see certain facial features in animals (e.g. big eyes, round cheeks) that we typically associate with baby humans. Our brains associate human baby features with cuteness, and thus, we project these qualities onto pets, including cats and dogs.

In this case, maybe it’s Yogi’s mournful stare and round face that reminds us of a baby experiencing an existential crisis.

“Ethologist Konrad Lorenz proposed that baby schema (‘Kindchenschema’) is a set of infantile physical features such as the large head, round face and big eyes that is perceived as cute and motivates caretaking behavior in other individuals, with the evolutionary function of enhancing offspring survival,” researchers in a 2009 study published in the journal Ethology report.

Baby schema, as depicted in a 2014 study published in 'Frontiers in Psychology'. Image: (Borgi, Cogliati-Dezza, Brelsford, Meints and Cirulli/CC BY)

(Borgi, Cogliati-Dezza, Brelsford, Meints and Cirulli/CC BY/Frontiers in Psychology)

While cuteness is literally in the eye of the beholder, it’s possible that our brains are hardwired to see facial features like Yogi’s as, well, human. Because of that, we feel naturally inclined to take care of them, or in this case, give them treats and scratches.

Yogi could not be reached at this time to confirm or deny that he’s in fact a person, specifically Nicolas Cage.

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