Human And Dog Brain ‘Voice Areas’: Man And His Best Friend Use Similar Mechanisms To Process Sound

By Shweta Iyer on February 20, 2014 1:53 PM EST

dog human brain
A new study found that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains, just as humans do and their brains can gauge emotions in voice just like humans. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Your dog loves it when you talk to him lovingly, but hides behind the couch every time you scold him. A new study attempts to explain how your dog perfectly understands your feelings every time. According to a press release Thursday, the study compared brain functions between humans and other non-primate animals for the first time. Researchers found that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains, just as humans do and their brains can gauge emotions in voice just like humans.

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According to the study, voice areas in humans and dogs evolved at least 100 million years ago, which was the age of their last common ancestor. The study also attempts to explain our unique connection with dogs and the behavioral and neural mechanisms that made this alliance so effective for thousands of years.

Lead researcher Attila Andics said, "Dogs and humans share a similar social environment. Our findings suggest that they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information. This may support the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species."

For the experiment, Andics and his colleagues trained 11 dogs to lay motionless in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scanner that measures brain activity by detecting associated changes in blood flow. That made it possible for the researchers to run the same neuroimaging experiment on both dog and human participants, a procedure which had never been done before. They captured both dogs' and humans' brain activities while the subjects listened to nearly 200 dog and human sounds, ranging from an array of emotions like whining or crying to playful barking or laughing.

The fMRI images show that dog and human brains include voice areas in similar locations. An obvious find was that the voice area of dogs responded more strongly to other dogs while that of humans responded more strongly to other humans.

The researchers also noted that both dogs and human brains processed emotionally loaded sounds in strikingly similar ways. In both species, an area near the primary auditory cortex lit up more with happy sounds than unhappy ones. The researchers were most struck by the common response to emotion across species.

One striking difference found was that man's ability to respond to nonvocal sounds like claps was significantly poorer than dogs. In humans only 3 percent of the sensitive brain regions responded to nonvocal sounds as compared to 48 percent in case of dogs.

"This method offers a totally new way of investigating neural processing in dogs. At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment", said Andics.

Source: Andics, A. "Voice-sensitive regions in the dog and human brain are revealed by comparative fMRI." Current Biology. 2014.

Above photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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