You may think your dog is wagging its tail and is all excited at the sight of your face, but research shows he probably isn’t.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, explains that dogs are not wired to focus on human faces and the sight of a human does not particularly excite them.
Hungarian scientists found that unlike humans, dogs not have brain regions that respond specifically to faces. However, both dogs and humans have a brain region that sparks when a member of the same species comes into view.
“Faces are central to human visual communication… and human brains are also specialized for faces,” study co-author Attila Andics, an animal behavior researcher at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said in an email to NBC News.
“They read emotions from faces and they can recognize people from the face alone, but other bodily signals seem to be similarly informative to them,” she added.
This means that although they may notice humans’ faces and their expressions, but they use other information such as body language and voice cues to tell what humans are really up to.
The researchers recruited 30 humans and 20 dogs who were family companions. Each human and dog lay in an MRI machine while shown a series of two-second videos: a dog face, the back of a dog’s head, a human face and the back of a human head.
After analyzing the brain scans, the researchers found visual areas of the humans’ brains lit up when a human face was shown than when it’s the back of a head. Human brains were also more active when a video of a person is being played than one of a dog. For dogs, their brain activity did not change whether its the human’s face or the back of a head was viewed. When they were showed photos of other dogs, their brains were more active than when videos of humans.
“The dog face system just goes ‘it’s a dog or a human’ and it doesn’t really care about the faces,” said Professor Sophie Scott, director of the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London.
“The finding of a [brain] region in dogs [that only responds to images of dogs] is intriguing, but only 50% of the dogs tested showed such a region,” said Dr. Daniel Dilks, an expert in the human visual cortex from Emory University. “It will be important to understand why half of the dogs exhibit such a cortex, while the other half does not.”
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