“It’s amazing that dogs do so well when it comes to reading emotions and identifying themselves from faces, despite the fact that they don’t seem to have brains designed to focus on [them]Said Dr Attila Andics, co-author of the study from Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary.
In the Journal of Neuroscience, Andics and colleagues report how they scanned the brains of 20 family dogs, including Labradors and border collies, and 30 humans with each shown six sequences of 48 videos of the front or rear. the back of a human or dog. head.
The team found that particular regions of the dog’s brain exhibited different activity depending on the species presented, with greater response to dog videos. However, there was no difference in any area where the dogs showed a human or dog face compared to the back of its head.
In contrast, regions of the human brain showed different activity depending on whether one showed a face or the back of a head, with faces generally generating a stronger response.
A small subset of these regions also showed a difference between species, generally showing a stronger response to humans.
Andics said further analysis showed that the dog’s brain was primarily focused on whether the animal was looking at a dog or a human, while the human brain was primarily focused on the presence of a face.
While previous work has suggested that dogs have separate areas of the brain for processing human and canine faces, Andics said the new findings suggest that these studies may be picking up responses to other differences in images, such as the breed of dog.
Andics said the new results suggested dogs don’t rely heavily on faces when it comes to communication – but that doesn’t mean dogs ignore them completely. On the contrary, he said, the brains of dogs weren’t designed to focus specifically on faces, which could be related to the fact that animals pick up many bodily signals.
Professor Sophie Scott, director of the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said different networks in the human brain are known to process different aspects of information in faces. But the study suggests that the canine brain works differently.
“The dog face system just says ‘it’s a dog or a human’ and it doesn’t really care about faces,” she said, noting that the results contrast with research showing that dogs and humans have particular brain regions involved in processing voices.
The results, Scott added, suggest that dogs may be less dependent on faces than other information. “One of the main ways that dogs know who their friends are and how they are doing is by scent,” she says.
But Dr Daniel Dilks, an expert on the human visual cortex at Emory University, said the study did not conclusively prove that there is no specific brain region in the face in dogs. “The discovery of a [brain] region in dogs [that only responds to images of dogs] is intriguing, but only 50% of the dogs tested had such a region, ”he added. “It will be important to understand why half of dogs have such a cortex, while the other half do not. “