If you’re wondering how your dog is able to magically sense when you are sad, take a look in the mirror.
(And quit moping, you might be bringing your dog down.)
A new study suggests dogs have a specialized region in their brains for processing faces, and that face-reading region in the temporal cortex may help explain how they’ve become so adept at reading human social cues — a skill that up to now has, at least in the eyes of scientists, only been well-documented in humans and other primates.
Dogs have “neural machinery” that has been “hard-wired through cognitive evolution,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and the senior author of the study.
Berns heads the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology, which is researching evolutionary questions surrounding man’s best friend.
The project was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation.
In previous research, the Dog Project identified a region of the canine brain that served as a reward center, and showed that region was responsible for a dog’s brain responding more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.
In the current study, the researchers focused on how dogs respond to faces versus everyday objects, reports Phys.org.
“Dogs are obviously highly social animals,” Berns says, “so it makes sense that they would respond to faces. We wanted to know whether that response is learned or innate.”
The answer appears to be it’s a little of both — it was there to begin with, but has been honed over centuries of socializing with humans.
The study involved dogs viewing both static images and video images on a screen while undergoing an MRI.
Since dogs do not normally interact with two-dimensional images, they had to undergo training to learn to pay attention to the screen. Only six of the eight dogs enrolled in the study were able to hold a gaze for at least 30 seconds on each of the images, but for each of those six a region in their temporal lobe responded significantly more to movies of human faces.
The researchers have dubbed the canine face-processing region they identified the dog face area, or DFA.
(We assume they came up with that using that area of the human brain that is not too imaginative and wants to give everything an acronym.)
A previous study, decades ago, using electrophysiology, found sheep had facial recognition skills, but only a few face-selective cells were identified, as opposed to an entire region of the cortex, said Daniel Dilks, an Emory assistant professor of psychology and author of the study.
Humans, by the way, have at least three face processing regions in the brain.
“Dogs have been cohabitating with humans for longer than any other animal,” Dilks said. “They are incredibly social, not just with other members of their pack, but across species. Understanding more about canine cognition and perception may tell us more about social cognition and perception in general.”
(Photo courtesy of Gregory Berns, Emory University)
Posted by John Woestendiek August 4th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cognition, daniel dilks, dog, dog project, dogs, emory, emory university, faces, fmri, gregory berns, humans, mood, moods, mri, pets, psychology, read, recognition, recognize, response, social cues, the dog project
Based on tests with dozens of dogs — some from homes, some from shelters — researchers found that, when it comes to interacting with humans, dogs seems to prefer physical contact to anything you might have to say, praise included.
One possible exception — verbal pronouncements that dinner, or treats, are about to be served.
Two scientists from the University of Florida, who in a previous study determined dogs prefer eating food to being petted, have published the results of another research project, showing dogs prefer physical contact over verbal praise.
Neither conclusion seems that surprising to me, but one has to bear in mind that scientists prefer having their work published to having their bellies rubbed, dinner at a five-star restaurant or even verbal praise: “Good scientist. Yes! Yes! You’re a very good scientist.”
“I spend half my day talking to my dog,” study co-author Dr. Clive Wynne, who is now professor and director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, told The Huffington Post. “She always looks like it’s valuable to her. It’s quite a shock to discover that what we say to dogs doesn’t seem to be rewarding to them after all.”
For one part of the study researchers observed 42 dogs as they interacted one at a time with two people in a room. One person petted the dog, while the other praised the dog verbally. The researchers measured how much time the dog chose to spend interacting with each person.
Next, 72 dogs were, one at a time, placed in a room with just one person and their behavior was observed as the person spent time petting or praising the dog, or not interacting at all.
Dogs showed the most interest in people who were petting them, while they seemed to show no more interest in spoken praise than in having no interaction with the human at all, according to the study, published in the journal Behavioural Processes.
“I was surprised that when only one alternative was available, dogs still did not engage with the human for vocal praise,” said study co-author Dr. Erica Feuerbacher, now assistant professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. She conducted the research while earning her doctorate degree at the University of Florida.
The scientists say dogs never seem to tire of getting petted, and they note that previous studies have shown a dog being stroked, like the human who is stroking him, reaps some health benefits, including a lowering of heart rate and blood pressure.
We won’t go so far as to suggest dogs realize that petting is a more honest form of interaction; that words can be less sincere, or even deceptive; or that words can even be annoying — like when they go on too long, are ridiculously repetitious, or they’re uttered in that high-pitched baby talk tone some of us use when talking to our pets.
But we won’t rule it out, either.
For his part, researcher Wynne says that, even if his own dog doesn’t fully appreciate all he verbally passes on to her, he’ll probably keep talking to her anyway. “I just recognize better that I’m doing it more for my benefit than for hers,” he said.
(Photo: Ace seeking some physical contact in Kanab, Utah / by John Woestendiek)
Posted by John Woestendiek September 10th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, attention, benefits, blood pressure, cognition, contact, dogs, health, heart rate, humans, interaction, pets, petting, physical, praise, psychology, science, shut up and pet me, study, talk, talking, touch, verbal, vocal, words
Janice Lloyd, the voice of USA Today’s Paw Print Post, wrote a spectacularly moving piece yesterday about her brother’s golden retriever and the dog’s newfound bond with her aging father.
The dog, Lloyd writes, “has adopted my father since last Thursday, giving him a comfort he can find no place else right now.” At 93, she says, her father is showing signs of dementia, and since his wife fell and broke her hip on a recent vacation cruise, leading to a stay in a nursing home, he’s been staying with his son, Lloyd’s brother, in Delaware.
“My dad gets teary at night when he has to leave his bride in the home. He doesn’t understand why he can’t sleep with her. We explain that he can’t stay there. He thinks she seems OK and can go home. The conversation recurs nightly, often more than once.”
Sophie, the nine-year-old golden retriever, “seemed to sense immediately that Dad needed a care taker. She rose to the occasion. She curls up with him on the sofa and puts her head in his lap. My dad rubs her head and smiles at her. My brother says ‘she doesn’t even do that with me …’
“When it’s time for dad to go to bed, she goes downstairs with him and jumps up on the kingsize bed and stays the night,” Lloyd wrote. Her brother says when her father gets up early in the morning for a trip to the bathroom, he tells Sophie to wait for him in bed. When he comes back, he’ll say “Good girl, Sophie. I’m glad you stayed. Let’s go back to sleep. ”
A veteran of World War II, Lloyd’s father visits his wife in the nursing home every day, often falling asleep in a chair as he holds her hand.
Back at his son’s home, Sophie is the comforter.
“When I drove him to my brother’s from the nursing home Sunday night, Sophie ran up to the side of the car where Dad was sitting. She smiled at him. My brother says Goldens smile. Now I believe it. She greeted my Dad when he got out of the car. She never left his side while we watched a little TV before going to bed.”
Sophie, she says, “offers a comfort none of us can give him.”
(Photo by Janice Lloyd / USA Today)
Posted by John Woestendiek April 27th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aging, animals, bond, comfort, dog, dogs, elderly, golden retriever, humans, janice lloyd, nursing home, ohmidog!, parents, paw print post, pets, psychology, relationship, sophie, usa today
Someday I am going to do a study that shows 62 percent of all studies do little more than confirm what people with a modicum of common sense already know.
Until then, I will dutifully report on them — dog-related ones, anyway.
A new Canadian study, for instance, concludes that dog owners who live alone and have limited human social support are actually just as lonely as their petless peers.
The Carleton University study’s authors, both of whom own dogs, say that pets aren’t people and can’t compensate for a lack of human relationships, the Vancouver Sun reported.
“Pet ownership isn’t the panacea we think it is,” said co-author Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at the Ottawa-based university. “… The research indicates that pets don’t fill as much of a hole as we might believe they do. If you don’t have human social support already on your side, you’re still going to fall short.”
However, the study acknowledges, dog owners who do have a social life, with human friends, are indeed less lonely than non-dog owners.
Interestingly, that finding didn’t hold true for people with cats.
The part of the study that does seem worthy of study is that dealing with how, among people who live alone and have “insufficient” social ties, high attachment to a dog or cat can serve to only increase the pet-owner’s likelihood of loneliness and depression.
People with limited community connections, the study shows, were more likely to humanize their dog — and to nurture their relationship with their dog at the expense of their personal lives. Typically, those people were more depressed, visited the doctor more often and took more medications.
“We all know that pets can be there for us. But if that’s all you have, you run into trouble,” Pychyl said. The study’s authors also acknowledged that, often, dogs can serve as a catalyst for more social interaction.
In other words, dogs aren’t the sole cure for loneliness, but they sure can help — which most of us pretty much already knew.
The Carleton study was published in the journal Anthrozoos.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 6th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, anthrozoos, canadian, carleton university, cats, depression, dog, dogs, friends, humans, interaction, loneliness, lonely, news, ohmidog!, owners, ownership, people, pets, psychology, relationship, social, studies, study, support, timothy pychyl
Your dog licks your face because he loves you, right?
Ah, if it were only that simple.
There are those that will assure you that yes, those licks mean affection — your “fur babies” are showering you with, in addition to a little slobber, love and gratitude.
There are also those more scientific types who will dissect the act so emotionlessly as to leave you never wanting another lick again — or perhaps even another dog, or at least not another dog book.
Thank Dog, then, for Alexandra Horowitz, who in her new book “Inside of a Dog,” manages to probe doggie behavior in a manner both scientific and passionate, without stomping on the sanctity of the human-dog bond like it’s a cigarette in need of extinguishing.
The book’s title comes from the Groucho Marx quote: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
What makes “Inside of a Dog,” released in September, one of the best dog books of the year is that it’s not too dark to read. Horowitz, a psychology professor, former staff member at The New Yorker, and long-time dog-lover is able — based in equal parts on her scientific research and her own personal experiences as a dog owner — to correct the many misconceptions about dogs without snuffing out the special light we see inside them.
As for those face licks, they have an evolutionary basis — it originally was a way for pups to encourage their moms and dads to regurgitate what they had eaten while hunting, thus sharing their prechewed bounty.
That doesn’t mean your dog is trying to make you puke everytime it licks your face, only that what’s now a ritualized greeting began that way.
The book gets to the root of other canine behaviors, as well, including:
· How dogs tell — and actually smell — time.
· Why it’s been futile leaving your television on for your dog all these years (and why this may be different now).
· How your dog really feels about that raincoat you make him wear.
· Why some dogs joyfully retrieve tossed balls and sticks while others just stare at you like you’re a fool for throwing them.
While not a training manual, it’s a book every dog trainer should read, and perhaps every dog owner who wants to truly understand not just what their pet means to them, but what their pet means.
The book goes into how dogs see, smell and hear the world, what their barks mean, what their tail wags mean. And it avoids the common oversimplifications associated with seeing dogs solely in terms of human behavior, or seeing them solely as modern-day wolves.
Horowitz, and the book, show some appreciation and understanding of the evolutions that have taken place, and continue to — the evolution of dogs, the evolution of humans, and the evolution of the bond between the two.
(Learn more about the latest dog books at ohmidog’s book page, Good Dog Reads.)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 8th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, behavior, bond, book, books, books on dogs, cognitive, dog, dog books, dogs, evolution, good dog reads, human, inside of a dog, kiss, know, lick, misconceptions, psychology, regurgitate, relationship, scientist, see, smell, tail, understanding, wag
New research shows babies have a handle on the meaning of different dog barks – despite little or no previous exposure to dogs.
Infants just 6 months old can match the sounds of an angry snarl and a friendly bark to photos of dogs displaying threatening and welcoming body language, according to researchers at Brigham Young University.
“Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world,” said BYU psychology professor Ross Flom, lead author of the study. Flom and two BYU students report their findings in the journal Developmental Psychology.
The new findings come on the heels of a study from the same lab showing that infants can detect mood swings in Beethoven’s music.
“We chose dogs because they are highly communicative creatures both in their posture and the nature of their bark,” Flom said.
In the experiment, the babies first saw two different pictures of the same dog, one in an aggressive posture and the other in a friendly stance. Then the researchers played – in random order – sound clips of a friendly and an aggressive dog bark.
Posted by John Woestendiek July 23rd, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: angry, babies, bark, barks, brigham young university, byu, difference, dog, dogs, emotions, friendly, infants, meaning, psychology, research, snarl, study, understanding, yap
To better understand the human mind, scientists ar Harvard University are looking to dogs.
Through a newly established Canine Cognition Lab, researchers hope to learn whether domestication has led to dogs that think and act more like their masters, or whether that’s all in our heads.
“Here’s this species we live with. Everyone has their views about how smart they are. No doubt we are overinterpreting – and in some cases underinterpreting,” said Marc Hauser, a Harvard professor who has long studied cognition in cottontop tamarin monkeys and who heads the new lab. “To what extent is an animal that’s really been bred to be with humans capable of some of the same psychological mechanisms?”
Hauser is recruiting both purebreds and mutts and running them through simple tests aimed at determining, for example, whether they understand such abstract concepts as “same,” according to a recent Boston Globe article.
The new Harvard lab represents a turnaround in the scientific community, which has long looked primarily toward chimps for clues to human behavior.
“Psychologists have been ignoring animals that were sleeping quietly at their feet while they were doing work on rats and pigeons,” said Clive Wynne, a psychology professor at the University of Florida who also studies pets. “Darwin wrote about his dog … We couldn’t bring ourselves to take them seriously.”
In one of the tests at Harvard, researchers tried to determine whether dogs can use pictures as signs to figure out which bucket contains food. They presented Celia, a German shepherd, with a choice between a bucket marked with a picture of steak and one marked with a pair of pliers. Celia picked the steak.
Katie Levesque, Celia’s owner, said she tries to give her dog challenging tasks at home but was surprised that her dog picked pictures of food three times, also choosing a hot dog over a hammer, and three biscuits over one.
“I was kind of laughing,” said Levesque, who sat in a corner of the room with Celia at her feet during the experiment. Owners can also watch their dogs from behind a one-way mirror. Only about 20 dogs have been tested, so it’s too early to draw conclusions about dogs’ comprehension of pictures.
The Canine Cognition Lab is recruiting dogs. Check its website for more information.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 30th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: abstract, animals, canine, cognition, concepts, dog, dogs, domestication, fairness, guilt, harvard, humans, lab, marc hauser, pets, psychology, research, science, shame, sharing, study, university, what dogs think