Even though dogs gaze into man's eyes, dog brains may not process faces as human brains do. A new study from JNeurosci suggests that the canine visual system is organized differently: the face network found in primates may not extend to all mammals.
Faces constitute a critical part of communication for humans and other primates, so much so that faces have a special status in their visual system. Areas in the face network, like the fusiform face area, activate specifically to faces. Dogs care about faces, too, but they may not have face areas.
The researchers used a cohort of 20 dogs and 30 humans in their study who were analyzed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Bunford, Hernández-Pérez et al. used fMRI to compare the brain activity of humans and pet dogs as they watched brief videos of other humans and dogs. Human brains showed a preference for faces, meaning that some visual areas had greater activity in response to a face compared to the back of the head. A subset of these regions also displayed species preference, with increased activity in response to viewing a human over a dog. In contrast, dog brains only showed species preference. Visual areas had greater activity in response to seeing a dog over a human, and no activity difference between seeing a face vs. the back of the head.
Bunford N, Hernández-Pérez R, Farkas EB, et al. Comparative Brain Imaging Reveals Analogous and Divergent Patterns of Species- and Face-Sensitivity in Humans and Dogs. J Neurosci. Published online October 5, 2020. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2800-19.2020
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