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Voice cues prompt similar brain response in dogs, people

Updated: Feb 20, 2014 02:49 PM
© Kane Skennar / Digital Vision / Thinkstock © Kane Skennar / Digital Vision / Thinkstock

A new study sheds light on why Fido understands when you firmly tell him to sit or give him other commands.

Researchers discovered that, just like people, dogs' brains have a dedicated voice area and an area that's sensitive to emotional cues in voices.

The findings suggest that the voice areas in both humans and dogs evolved at least 100 million years ago in the last common ancestor of the two species, said the authors of the study, which was published Feb. 20 in the journal Current Biology.

The results also help explain why people and dogs have been such close partners for tens of thousands of years.

"Dogs and humans share a similar social environment," study author Attila Andics, of the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary, said in a journal news release. "Our findings suggest that they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information. This may support the success of vocal communication between the two species."

The researchers used functional MRI to monitor brain activity in people and 11 dogs as they heard nearly 200 sounds made by humans and dogs, such as laughter, playful barking, whining and crying.

The scans revealed that people and dogs have voice areas in similar locations of their brains. In addition, an area near the primary auditory cortex in the brains of both species showed more activation in response to happy sounds than unhappy ones.

The findings advance efforts to learn how dogs can be so tuned in to their owners' feelings, the researchers said.

"At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment," Andics said.

More information

The Public Broadcasting Service explains the evolution of dogs.

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