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Study: dog brains react to human voice like we do

Sunday - 2/23/2014, 3:16am  ET

Audio: this might explain why dogs seem so tuned into human emotion

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WASHINGTON -- A recent study has found that a dog's brain reacts to the human voice in similar ways as a human brain does, signaling that perhaps dogs process emotion in the same way as humans, too.

According to the study published in the journal, Current Biology, 11 dogs and 22 human volunteers were tested by playing them 200 different sounds, ranging from environmental noises, such as car sounds, to human sounds (not words) and dog sounds.

Scientists found that when the human voices were played, a similar region in both the human and dog brains called the temporal pole was activated.

"We do know there are voice areas in humans, areas that respond more strongly to human sounds that any other types of sounds," said Dr. Attila Andics, the lead author who hails from the Hungarian Academy of Science's Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, in an interview with BBC News.

"The location (of the activity) in the dog brain is very similar to where we found it in the human brain. The fact that we found these areas exist at all in the dog brain at all is a surprise - it is the first time we have seen this in a non- primate."

When human emotional sounds were played -- like crying and laughter -- again, the same area of the brain in both the humans and dogs became activated. Likewise for the emotional sounds of dogs -- like whining or angry barking.

So what does this mean? The study suggests this underscores an evolutionary bond formed between humans and domesticated dogs over the last 18,000 to 30,000 years. It has allowed each to be tuned in to the other's emotional pitch and, it has allowed dog's to become much more responsive to humans in general.

"We know very well that dogs are very good at tuning into the feelings of their owners, and we know a good dog owner can detect emotional changes in his dog - but we now begin to understand why this can be."

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Tags: dogs