Researchers measured brain activity in dogs and humans by showing them videos of faces and backs of heads, according to a press release from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary.
While faces are extremely important for visual communication in humans, the same cannot be said of our canine companions.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments on 20 dogs were performed at Eötvös Loránd University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Querétaro, Mexico, two of the very few institutions capable of scanning dogs’ brains when they are awake and unrestrained.
The results revealed that large, dedicated neural networks in the human brain are used to differentiate faces from non-faces. In dogs, there are no brain regions that trigger to differentiate faces.
“In dogs, for parent recognition and mate selection, facial cues are no more important than non-facial body cues, acoustic or chemical cues,” Andics said.
The full study, described by the researchers as the first of its kind, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience Monday.
Andics told CNN that dogs care about human faces, even if their brains aren’t specifically tuned in to them.
“I think it’s amazing that while they apparently don’t have a specialized neural machine to process faces, dogs nonetheless excel at eye contact, following the gaze, reading the emotions in our face, and they can even recognize their owner by the face, ”Andics said.
“During domestication, dogs have adapted to the human social environment, and living with humans, they quickly learn that reading facial cues makes sense, just as humans learn to pay attention to small details,” let’s say a phone, without having specialized phone areas in their brain. ”
Researchers will now compare how the brains of dogs and humans process other visual categories such as body parts, various species and everyday objects, Andics said.
The team will also examine whether dogs’ brains have developed different specializations as a result of living with humans, Andics added.