This brain imaging experiment might explain why dogs are so sensitive to people's moods

A dog in an MRI machine shown faces. Image: Gregory Berns, Emory University

Scientists trained a group of dogs to lie inside an MRI brain imaging machine so they cold be tested for their facial recognition abilities.

The study, published in the journal PeerJ, found that dogs have a specialised region in their brains for processing faces.

The research provides the first evidence for a face-selective region in the temporal cortex of dogs.

“Our findings show that dogs have an innate way to process faces in their brains, a quality that has previously only been well-documented in humans and other primates,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University in the US.

The hard-wired ability may help explain why dogs are extremely sensitive to human social cues.

“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 researchers have named the canine face-processing region they identified as DFA, the dog face area.

The dogs in the experiment also had to be trained to pay attention to the screen because they don’t normally interact with two-dimensional images.

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