The last common ancestor of humans and dogs existed 100 million years ago. Since then, researchers have found evidence indicating that the voice areas of dogs have evolved. With recent studies, there has been new insight into human’s unique connection with animals such as dogs. This fact has helped explain the behavioral and neural mechanisms that have made this alliance effective for thousands of years.
Researchers Test Neural Reaction to Voices
Vocal communication between two species like humans and dogs can be achievable with these new findings. Dogs and humans have a very similar social environment. Newly discovered research from MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary, suggests that both humans and dogs use similar brain mechanisms to process social information.
Attila Andics and his colleagues, all researchers from MTA-ELTE, trained 11 dogs to lay down motionless in a fMRI brain scanner. That way it was possible to run the experiment on both human and dog participants, a method never done before. Researchers captured the brain activities of both human and dogs, while they listened to 200 dog sounds and 200 human sounds, ranging from whining, crying, to playful barking and laughing.
Results Show a Link
The results showed that the way the human brain processes emotionally loaded sounds were similar to the way dogs responded. The voice areas of dogs responded more efficiently and stronger to dog sounds, conversely humans reacted faster to human sounds. Another stunning similarity, the area near the primary auditory cortex brightened up more with pleasant sounds than with unhappy sounds.
In dogs, 48% of all sound-sensitive brain regions respond stronger to sounds than voices. As opposed to humans where 3% of sound-sensitive brain regions show greater response to sounds than to vocal sounds. This study is the first step toward understanding how dogs can tune into the feelings of humans, specifically their owners.
The print version of this article appeared Tuesday, Oct. 30th.