Study: Dogs’ brains aren’t wired to ‘care’ about human faces, but they do anyway

A study claims that dogs' brains aren’t hardwired to care about human faces, and they have no area in their brains designed to distinguish between the back or front of someone’s head.
Small puppy rescued by Southern Pines Animal Shelter.
Small puppy rescued by Southern Pines Animal Shelter.(WDAM)
Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 9:55 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A study claims that dogs' brains aren’t hardwired to care about human faces, and they have no area in their brains designed to distinguish between the back or front of someone’s head. Researchers from Eötvös Lorand University, in Hungary, measured brain activity in humans and dogs as they showed them videos of faces and backs of heads.

While faces are important for visual communication in humans, the same couldn’t be said for our canine companions, researchers said.

CNN reported that the experiments were carried out on 20 dogs. According to the data, there are no brain regions that fire for dogs to be able to differentiate faces. Instead, dogs use smell or information from larger parts of the body, study co-author Attila Andics of Eötvös Loránd University, told CNN.

“In dogs, for kin recognition and mate selection facial cues are not more important than non-facial bodily cues, acoustic or chemical signals,” Andics said.

CNN reported that the full study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience Monday. But just because dogs' brains aren’t specifically tuned to human faces, doesn’t mean dogs don’t care about human faces.

“I think it is amazing that, despite apparently not having a specialized neural machinery to process faces, dogs nevertheless excel at eye contact, following gaze, reading emotions from our face, and they can even recognize their owner by the face,” Andics said.

“During domestication, dogs adapted to the human social environment, and living with humans they quickly learn that reading facial cues makes sense, just as humans learn to pay attention to little details, of let’s say, a phone, without having specialized phone areas in their brain.”

CNN reported the researchers will now compare how dog and human brains process other visual categories such as body parts, various species and everyday objects, said Andics.

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