Dog owners know that our furry best friends are very in tune with our emotions. One reason for this may be because dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains, just as we do, and dog brains, like those of people, are also sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion. This first study of brain function between humans and any nonprimate animal was published in the Cell Press journal Current.
"Our findings suggest that [dogs] also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information. This may support the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species," said Attila Andics of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary, in a press release.
Andics and his colleagues trained 11 dogs to lay motionless in an fMRI brain scanner. That made it possible to run the same neuroimaging experiment on both dog and human participants—something that had never been done before. They captured both dogs' and humans' brain activities while the subjects listened to nearly 200 dog and human sounds, ranging from whining or crying to playful barking or laughing.
The images show that dog and human brains include voice areas in similar locations. Not surprisingly, the voice area of dogs responds more strongly to other dogs while that of humans responds more strongly to other humans.
There were also similarities in the ways the dog and human brains process emotionally loaded sounds. In both species, an area near the primary auditory cortex lit up more with happy sounds than unhappy ones. Andics says the researchers were most struck by the common response to emotion across species.