Dogs, humans have similar emotional reactions, new study says - Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter of the most popular science stories:
Dog-owners probably won’t be surprised to learn of a new scientific study showing their pets understand human emotions.
Researchers from Hungary’s ELTE University trained dogs to sit still in an MRI scanner to get images of their brains. They found that canine brains react to voices in the same way a human does, and that emotionally-charged vocal sounds, like laughter or weeping, caused similar responses in dogs and people.
"We have known for a long time that dogs and humans share similar social environments, but now our results show that dogs and human have similar brain mechanisms to process social information," said Attila Andics of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group, according to a report by Voice of America (VOA) News.
The team performed brain scans on 11 dogs and were able to run the same neurological experiments on both dog and human participants–something not attempted before. The researchers recorded brain activities while the subjects listened to nearly 200 dog and human sounds, ranging from whimpering and crying to playful barking and laughing. As one would expect, dogs and humans react more strongly to vocal cues coming from members of their own species.
According to Andics, the research opens up many new research possibilities.
"It establishes a foundation of a new branch of comparative neuroscience, because until now it was not possible to measure the brain activities of a non-primate and the primate brain in a single experiment," Andics said.
Scientists at Duke University in North Carolina also are studying the canine brain. Evan MacLean, co-director of the school’s Canine Cognition Center, told VOA that the Hungarian results are a big step forward.
"We’ve known for a long time that dogs have a lot of behavioral similarities compared to humans," MacLean said. "But we don’t know anything or very little about whether some of these behaviors are represented similarly inside the brain of the dog so this research is providing a first glimpse to whether these behavioral similarities are underlined by similar neural processes."
The Hungarian study should leave no doubt that seeing human-like emotions in our canine pets is not just anthropomorphizing. In other words, now we know that dogs are people too.