Dog and human brains work very similarly in the areas of communication and emotion, according to a study by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
The first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal found that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains, and are sensitive to signs of emotion.
Co-author of the study, Attila Andics of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary, said:
“Dogs and humans share a similar social environment. Our findings suggest that they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information. This may support the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species.”
Andics and his colleagues trained 11 dogs to lay motionless in an fMRI brain scanner, and monitored brain activity while the dogs were exposed to nearly 200 dog and human sounds, including crying, whining, playful barking, and laughing. The same experiment was performed with human subjects.
Dogs at the MR Research Centre, Budapest. Credit: Borbala Ferenczy
The experiment found that dog and human brains include voice areas in similar locations, and process emotionally loaded sounds in a similar fashion. In both species, an area near the primary auditory cortex lit up more with happy sounds than unhappy ones.
Some differences were also observed, with dogs responding more to non-vocal sounds.
The study provides an interesting insight into how dogs are so adept at tuning into the feelings of their owners. As Andics notes:
“At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment.”
For more on the study, watch this video abstract:
Source: Current Biology, 20 February 2014