February 21, 2014
Dogs, Like Humans, Have ‘Voice Areas’ In Their Brains
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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe OnlineHumans can recognize the voices of their friends, get a mental image of them without actually seeing them, and determine their mood based on the tone of their voices because of a special region of their brain dedicated to these tasks. However, new research suggests we might not be the only mammal with these “voice areas.”
Writing in the journal Current Biology, Attila Andics of the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary and colleagues report that canine brains, like human ones, are sensitive to the acoustic cues of emotion. The findings suggest that these voice areas evolved at least 100 million years ago, in the last common ancestor of humans and canines, they added.
“It appears that there is a similar mechanism that processes social information in both dogs and humans,” he told Joseph Stromberg of SmithsonianMag.com on Thursday. “We think this might be able to explain what makes vocal communication between the two species so effortless and successful."
Stromberg explained that Andics, who is also a neuroscientist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and his associates have been using fMRI technology over the past few years in order to take a peek inside the brains of dogs. Using positive reinforcement, they convinced 11 canine subjects to voluntarily enter the fMRI scanner and remain still long enough to obtain accurate readings.
According to Los Angeles Times reporter Geoffrey Mohan, the 11 dogs were able to equal or surpass the fMRI performance of 22 humans in a first-of-its-kind neuroimaging test where each species listened to almost 200 human and canine sounds, including crying, laughing, whining and playful barking.
Those scans showed that approximately 39 percent of the dogs’ vocal regions responded most strongly to dog sounds, while 48 percent seemed to prefer other environmental noises and 13 percent gravitated towards human voices, Mohan said. Conversely, nearly all humans were more in tune with other men and women, while just 10 percent responded most strongly to canine sounds and 3 percent favored nonvocal sounds.
“The finding of dog voice areas in exactly the same location as human voice areas is a very strong argument for a common evolutionary origin, because it’s just very improbable that the two species could have developed this area in exactly the same part of the brain,” Andics told Mohan, adding that both the human and dog brains responded to the other species’ emotions the same way that the responded to those of their own species.
“It’s absolutely brilliant, groundbreaking research,” University of Glasgow neuroscientist Pascal Belin, who helped identify the voice areas of the human brain 14 years ago, told Science. “They’ve made the first comparative study using nonhuman primates of the cerebral processing of voices, and they’ve done it with a noninvasive technique by training dogs to lie in a scanner.”
Image 2 (below): These are the subject dogs at the MR Research Centre (Budapest). Credit: Borbala Ferenczy