You may love your dogs' faces, but they don't particularly care for yours, new research shows
- Dogs aren't wired to appreciate the beauty of your face, a new study shows.
- Humans place a premium on faces to gather information and social cues — and have specialised brain areas that activate specifically when we look at faces.
- Dog brains don't work like that: The researchers found that dogs' brain activity didn't change when they saw the back of a person's head versus a person's face.
- The study also found that dogs prefer to look at other dogs, and people prefer to look at other people.
- Canines do share some neurological similarities with humans: Recent research suggests these pets understand human speech in the same way people do.
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Many people love squishing their dogs' cuddly faces while gazing deep into their canines' soulful eyes to try and understand what they want.
But new research suggests our four-legged friends don't feel the same way about us. A study published Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals that dogs' brains are equally as excited by our faces as they are by the backs of our heads.
Humans rely on facial cues to gather information, and we have a special area of our brains that activates when we view a face. But the new study shows that dogs don't quite process human faces in the same way.
"They read emotions from faces and they can recognise people from the face alone, but other bodily signals seem to be similarly informative to them," Attila Andics, a dog behaviour researcher at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary and coauthor of the study, told NBC News.
Andics' group also found that dogs cared more about seeing other dogs than they did about seeing faces, human or otherwise.
Dogs prefer gazing at other dogs than gazing at faces
The researchers used a type of brain scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. fMRI can show how active different parts of the brain are by measuring where blood is flowing.
The researchers gave 20 pet dogs and 30 humans an fMRI scan, during which the participants were presented with four different 2-second videos.
One clip showed a human face, and another, the back of a human head. The last two videos were of a dog's face and the back of a dog's head.
Data from the scans showed humans and dogs both prefer gazing at members of their own species. The dogs' brains were more active when they saw another dog, compared to when they saw a person. The humans' brains, too, were more active when they saw a person than a dog.
But what separates these pets' brains from their owners' is how much they lit up when presented with a face.
The dog's brains lit up the same amount whether they gazed at a face or the back of a head. The human participants, by contrast, had brains that lit up like Christmas trees when presented with a face, compared to when they saw the back of a head.
According to Carlo Siracusa, director of the animal behaviour service at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, dogs can rely on body language and other senses to gather information.
"They use other ways of communicating such as ear position — which can be seen from the front and from behind. The ear position will tell about the mood of the dog. We humans don't move our ears," Siracusa, who was not involved in the study, told NBC.
Dogs also have an uncanny sense of smell that's between 10,000 and 100,000 more acute than humans'.
So they can pick up on pheromones left behind by other dogs, which may relay more information than a simple face peek.
Pooches understand speech in the same way we do
That being said, there are aspects of dogs' brains that are wired similarly to ours.
An August study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that dogs understand verbal communication just as we do, parsing out tone and then meaning as separate aspects of human speech.
When humans hear someone speak, our brains divide the work of processing that communication between the left and right hemispheres. First, the right hemisphere focuses on parsing out the speaker's underlying tone, and then the left hemisphere processes the meaning of what we've heard.
Researchers discovered in 2014 that dogs' brains divvy up the task of speech processing in the same way, though the scientists weren't sure of the order in which that happened.
The Scientific Reports study, however, found that dogs understand tone first, then meaning, in the same order as humans. The authors examined the brain activity of 12 pet dogs — six border collies, five golden retrievers, and one German shepherd — using fMRI.
They had the dogs listen to known praise words like "clever," "well done," and "that's it," as well as unknown words like "as if" and "yet" in both praising and neutral tones.
The data showed that the dogs processed "simpler, emotionally loaded cues" like tone first and then "more complex, learnt cues," Andics, who was also a coauthor of the August study, said in a press release.
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