Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Occasionally I read the Freakonomics blog that appears on the New York Times Web site. The guys who write it always make interesting observations about how people spend their money and their time. The heading for today's blog was "Dogs for Everyone?", so of course I read it. I looked forward to reading about why everyone should have a dog. But the topic was actually about the impact that dogs in the workplace can have on the behavior of the human workers. Here's the premise of the study that Levitt and Dubner cite: At workplaces that allowed employees to bring dogs, workers were significantly more likely to be loyal to and trusting in their co-workers and teammates. According to the blog, the scientist running the study "also asked 13 groups of people to play a version of the prisoner’s dilemma game and found that '[h]aving a dog around made volunteers 30% less likely to snitch than those who played without one.' " Interesting, no?
Being economists and not psychologists, the Freako guys did not hazard any hypotheses about why dogs make workers feel more like, well, part of the pack. In my own case, I have a dog in my office all the time, but I don't have actual co-workers, so the study doesn't quite fit. Muzzy snores happily but often bolts the room when my cursing at the cursor gets out of hand. She also skedaddles when my tube of lip rolls off the desk and plonks on the floor and any time the printer grinds into gear. Still, I do register Muzzy's presence during my day. If I sneeze or burp around her, I always excuse myself. And when she executes a command, I often say, "thank you" instead of "good girl." It is not that I'm worried about hurting Muzzy's feelings, mind you. (And believe me, I wish that she'd excuse herself after some room-clearing gas attacks.) But I do worry about getting out of practice of knowing how to behave around other humans. If I let what few manners I have slip entirely, I may not be able to pass as a civilized adult when the occasion calls.
So I think what the study discussed in the Freako-blog today hints at is that dogs do appeal to our better nature. Even if they are not judging us, we read all kinds of things into their big brown eyes. They are sentient beings whose loyalty and trust in us challenge us to be better team players. Who wants to look like a jerk in front of the dog? Or let's put it this way: What does it say about a person who is capable of acting like a jerk in front of the dog? You just don't want that guy on your team.