Dogs Nearly Identical to Humans in Reacting to Emotions


A new study has proven that dogs are nearly identical to humans when it comes to reacting to emotions. Many dog owners probably already suspect that their dogs can understand and react to what the owners are feeling, but up until now, only anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon was available. Now, scientists have used MRI scanners to prove that dogs’ brains are very similar to humans’ brains when it comes to reacting to crying and other emotional states. Dogs can also read different tones of voice accurately to detect which emotion the tone is conveying. The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

The dogs involved in the study had to be specially trained to sit still during their MRI session. Trainers used positive reinforcement and treats to get the dogs to stay motionless while the dogs were in the MRI machines. They also rewarded the dogs who were sitting still, and the other dogs then wanted to be the ones on the MRI platform. Using this sense of slight jealousy among the dogs got them to be very keen on behaving the way the researcher wanted them to behave. Normally, dogs would be stressed in a setting with a lot of machinery, noises and bright lights, especially if the environment is unfamiliar to them, but trainers were successful in getting the dogs to stay completely still so that the MRI readings would be accurate.

11 dogs participated in the study. They were exposed to hundreds of sounds, including friendly barking, human crying, laughing and whining. The results revealed that dogs are nearly identical to humans in reacting to emotions. The brains of humans and the brains of dogs showed the same areas of response when they heard the sounds. This proves that dogs process each sound almost the same way as humans do.

Researchers say this is an exciting breakthrough that will allow them to pursue an entirely new path of study when it comes to dog neurology. The pointed out that dogs reacted more to sounds made by other dogs while humans reacted more to sounds made by other humans, but the brain regions showed similar activity depending on the type of sound they heard. Dogs reacted more to non-vocalizations than did the humans who participated in the study.

What’s more, the more of one sound a dog heard, the more activity showed up in its brain. That means that when an owner is crying, the more he or she cries, the more the dog’s brain will respond. That’s why many owners often report that their dog shows them more attention when the dog perceives that its owner is sad. Science now backs up the theory that dogs really do know what their owners are feeling.

While humans tend to anthropomorphize their pets, and sometimes get criticized about doing that too frequently, in this particular case, dogs are nearly identical to humans when it comes to reacting to emotions.

By: Rebecca Savastio


CBS News

VOA News

Current Biology

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