Serendipity, or just coincidence?
Yesterday, I published a post and called it Dogs and wolves – fascinating research. Then blow me down in yesterday’s online BBC News, there was an article headlined: Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses This is how it opened.
Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses
By Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter, BBC World Service
Devoted dog owners often claim that their pets understand them. A new study suggests they could be right.
By placing dogs in an MRI scanner, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does.
Emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, also prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why dogs are attuned to human emotions.
The work is published in the journal Current Biology.
Lead author Attila Andics, from the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said: “We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information.”
Eleven pet dogs took part in the study; training them took some time.
Going across to that Current Biology link, one reads:
During the approximately 18–32 thousand years of domestication , dogs and humans have shared a similar social environment . Dog and human vocalizations are thus familiar and relevant to both species , although they belong to evolutionarily distant taxa, as their lineages split approximately 90–100 million years ago . In this first comparative neuroimaging study of a nonprimate and a primate species, we made use of this special combination of shared environment and evolutionary distance. We presented dogs and humans with the same set of vocal and nonvocal stimuli to search for functionally analogous voice-sensitive cortical regions. We demonstrate that voice areas exist in dogs and that they show a similar pattern to anterior temporal voice areas in humans. Our findings also reveal that sensitivity to vocal emotional valence cues engages similarly located nonprimary auditory regions in dogs and humans. Although parallel evolution cannot be excluded, our findings suggest that voice areas may have a more ancient evolutionary origin than previously known.
Back to the BBC news item.
“There were 12 sessions of preparatory training, then seven sessions in the scanner room, then these dogs were able to lie motionless for as long as eight minutes. Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.”
For comparison, the team looked at the brains of 22 human volunteers in the same MRI scanners.
The scientists played the people and pooches 200 different sounds, ranging from environmental noises, such as car sounds and whistles, to human sounds (but not words) and dog vocalisations.
The researchers found that a similar region – the temporal pole, which is the most anterior part of the temporal lobe – was activated when both the animals and people heard human voices.
“We do know there are voice areas in humans, areas that respond more strongly to human sounds that any other types of sounds,” Dr Andics explained.
“The location (of the activity) in the dog brain is very similar to where we found it in the human brain. The fact that we found these areas exist at all in the dog brain at all is a surprise – it is the first time we have seen this in a non-primate.”
Emotional sounds, such as crying and laughter also had a similar pattern of activity, with an area near the primary auditory cortex lighting up in dogs and humans.
Likewise, emotionally charged dog vocalisations – such as whimpering or angry barking – also caused a similar reaction in all volunteers,
Dr Andics said: “We know very well that dogs are very good at tuning into the feelings of their owners, and we know a good dog owner can detect emotional changes in his dog – but we now begin to understand why this can be.”
However, while the dogs responded to the human voice, their reactions were far stronger when it came to canine sounds.
They also seemed less able to distinguish between environmental sounds and vocal noises compared with humans.
About half of the whole auditory cortex lit up in dogs when listening to these noises, compared with 3% of the same area in humans.
Commenting on the research, Prof Sophie Scott, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said: “Finding something like this in a primate brain isn’t too surprising – but it is quite something to demonstrate it in dogs.
“Dogs are a very interesting animal to look at – we have selected for a lot of traits in dogs that have made them very amenable to humans. Some studies have show they understand a lot of words and they understand intentionality – pointing.”
But she added: “It would be interesting to see the animal’s response to words rather than just sounds. When we cry and laugh, they are much more like animal calls and this might be causing this response.
For the full report, as it was posted on the BBC website, click here.
Plus, do watch this five-minute video abstract.
Published on Feb 20, 2014
The video presents the first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal. Scientists at MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary found that dogs and humans use similar neural mechanisms to process social information in voices. The fact that dogs can be trained to lie motionless during fMRI tests opens up the space for a new branch of comparative neuroscience.
Paper in Current Biology: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014….
Group home page: http://mta-etologia.elte.hu/
The first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal shows that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains just as people do. Dog brains, like those of people, are also sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion, according to a study in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.
The findings suggest that voice areas evolved at least 100 million years ago, the age of the last common ancestor of humans and dogs, the researchers say. It also offers new insight into humans’ unique connection with our best friends in the animal kingdom, perhaps explaining how our two species have lived and worked together so effectively for tens of thousands of years.
“Our findings suggest that dogs and humans not only share a similar social environment, but they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information,” said Atilla Andics of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary. “This may help the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species.”
Andics and his colleagues trained eleven dogs to lay motionless in an fMRI brain scanner. That made it possible to run the very same neuroimaging experiment on dog and human participants — something that had never been done before. They captured both dogs’ and humans’ brain activities while they listened to dog and human sounds, ranging from whining or crying to playful barking or laughing.
The images show that dog and human brains include voice areas in similar locations. Not surprisingly, the voice area of dogs responds more strongly to other dogs, while that of humans responds more strongly to other humans. The researchers also noted striking similarities in the ways the dog and human brain processes emotionally loaded sounds. In both species, an area near the primary auditory cortex lit up more with happy sounds than unhappy ones. Andics said they were most struck by the common response to emotion across species.
There were some differences too: in dogs, 48 percent of all sound-sensitive brain regions respond more strongly to sounds other than voices. That’s in contrast to humans, in which only three percent of sound-sensitive brain regions show greater response to non-vocal versus vocal sounds.
The study is the first step to understanding how it is that dogs can be so remarkably good at tuning into the feelings of their human owners. “This method offers a totally new way of looking at neural processing in dogs,” Andics said. “At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment.”