ATLANTA — New research shows that dogs have an innate way that to process faces in their brains. This quality has previously only been well documented in humans and other primates.
The study is the first evidence that dogs are hard wired to recognize human faces, with a face selective region in the temporal cortex of their brains, and may explain their extreme sensitivity to human social cues.
The research known as the Dog Project, is taking place at Emory University’s Department of Psychology and is being led by Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at the school, and the senior author of the study. The discovery was reported in the August 4 edition of the PeerJ.
For the study six dogs were examined, the animals were trained to stay completely still inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. The dogs were not sedated for the study.
Once inside the scanner, the dogs were shown two-dimensional photos of people, dogs and other objects. They were also shown 30 second videos of people, dogs and objects. The dogs responded more to the videos of people, than the photos of people. The region of the brain that showed the most amount of activity to seeing the faces and dogs was the region in the temporal lobe of the dog’s brain.
This study shows that dogs did not learn to respond to people’s faces over the 30,000 years we have lived together, but rather, dog’s brains have evolved to distinguish the differences in human facial expressions through a type of evolution known as cognitive evolution.
A dog can anticipate human emotions by looking at facial expressions. Dogs have been living with humans for longer than any other animal. We share a special bond and this study helps us better understand our canine friends’ cognitive and perception abilities.