New research has revealed that our canine companions have a specially developed part of their brains responsible for recognizing faces. Scientists reckon this ability is what explains dog’s extreme sensitivity to human cues. “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,” said Gregory Berns. To perform the study, the researchers placed dogs in front of both static images and moving videos while attaching them to FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine.
Six of the eight dogs held their gaze for the required 30 seconds and the research team saw a significant response in their temporal lobes when human faces were displayed as opposed to everyday objects. According to Berns, the area of the brain that responds to faces is located in the temporal cortex. Crucially, it’s a different area from the ‘reward system’ that could respond to the images if the dogs were simply associating the human faces with food or other treats. “Dogs are obviously highly social animals,” said Berns. “So it makes sense that they would respond to faces. We wanted to know whether that response is learned or innate.” What’s more, we believe this ability has become hard-wired into dogs through evolution. After all, our four-legged friends have been living alongside people longer than any other animal. In humans, there are three face-processing regions in the brain that help us distinguish and remember different features.