His Master’s Voice

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A new study finds that dogs process emotions and voices just as human beings do
How did dogs become man’s best friend? According to a new study, this is perhaps because the human and canine brain reacts similarly to voice. This study, published in Current Biology, shows that canines respond to emotions in one’s voice the same way that humans do. The study found that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains just like humans.

For the study, Hungarian researchers made 11 dogs—six golden retrievers and five border collies— and a group of 22 men and women listen to almost 200 dog and human sounds during which their brains were scanned. These sounds varied from crying and laughing to playful barking. The researchers found that not only do canine brains have voice- sensitive regions, these areas are similar to those in humans. When emotionally-charged human sounds like crying and laughter played, in both humans and dogs, the area near the primary auditory cortex lit up. The same reaction was found in both groups of participants when emotionally-charged dog sounds like angry barking were played.

Speaking about the manner in which many dog owners try to talk to their dogs, and how canines appear to respond, Attila Andics, the lead researcher, told the Daily Mail, “Our findings suggest that they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information. This may support the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species.”

But the study also highlights another interesting point. It is believed that humans and dogs last shared a common ancestor 100 million years ago. It is possible that canines developed the dedicated voice areas in their brains independently of humans. But, as the researchers say, these regions were probably present in that common ancestor 100 million years ago. The researchers write in the journal, ‘We demonstrate that voice areas exist in dogs and that they show a similar pattern to anterior temporal voice areas in humans. Although parallel evolution cannot be excluded, our findings suggest that voice areas may have a more ancient evolutionary origin than previously known.’