Fido listens like you do

Humans and dogs similarly use the brain’s auditory cortex to process the acoustical cues related to emotions expressed in the human voice.

This is my dog Walter after having heard my negative answer for his "give me your cupcake" request.

This is my dog Walter after having heard my negative answer for his “give me your cupcake” request.

Sometimes, I ask my dogs a question, examine the look in their faces, and end up verbalizing the answer for them. Besides having indescribable fun doing it, I do that kind of weirdness because, as any other dog owner, I can swear they understand me – and now, there is scientific proof that we at least are at the same page in terms of voice processing. A study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) compared the responses of dogs and humans to three types of sounds: human voice, dog vocalization, nonvocal sounds. The results suggest that not only dogs and humans share common functions in terms of voice processing, but also that, in humans, an specific area of the temporal lobe ‘prefers’ non-human vocalizations. Although the authors don’t discard the possibility that the similarities in the voice processing in the dog and human brain are due to convergent evolution, they suggest that such similarities might have been already present in the common ancestor of dogs and humans, about 100 million years ago. Thousand of years of domestication might be the reason why dogs present the same left gaze bias that humans do when reading facial expressions, but the fact humans and dogs process voices in a similar fashion might be one of the explanations for such a successful (and cozy) interaction.

Andics et al. 2014. Voice-Sensitive Regions in the Dog and Human Brain Are Revealed by Comparative fMRI. Current Biology (in press).

Study subjects during fMRI. Pictures from Adics et al. 2014.

Study subjects during fMRI. Pictures from Adics et al. 2014.

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