We’ve always known our pets could relate to us in certain ways. After all, they’re not called ‘man’s best friend’ for nothing.
But, new research suggests that your furry, four-legged companion might actually be able to relate more to you than you think. While dogs aren’t able to completely comprehend words the way we do, they can process the emotions and vocalizations of humans similar to the way we do.
Studies show that there’s a region in our pets’ brains that actually help them break down emotions in both human and dog voices. We also have the ability to decipher emotion through voice in a similar region of the brain. The analogous region is dedicated to interpreting sound through feeling, tone, etc.
During an experiment conducted by MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group, 11 Border Collies, Labradors and Golden Retrievers were placed in an MRI brain scanning machine and given three types of sounds to listen to: human voices, dog voices and other random noises.
What researchers found was that pets responded more to the voices of other dogs and then to the emotional tones of humans. They also discovered that the region of the brain – right behind the ears – is where humans process emotional tones as well.
It was also discovered that the response was stronger with positive emotions rather than negative.
In order to tell whether you’re laughing or crying, dogs, like us, use simple acoustic parameters to decipher the two.
There is also evidence that dogs can interpret visual cues in human beings, according to animal behavior experts and psychologists at the University of Lincoln, UK, and the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. In this study, 17 untrained domestic dogs were given pictures and sounds that conveyed positive and negative emotions separately. The results showed that the pets spent more time looking at facial expressions that corresponded with the dog or human’s emotional state.
Part of the study’s results were consistent with the findings in the first: the test group stared longer at the pictures of positive faces when they heard positive sounds and negative faces when they heard negative sounds. Researchers say this is probably what helped dogs in their domestication by humans thousands of years ago.
Now we know that part of the reason we get along so well with our pets, is because they can detect human emotions. But based on they way we interact with our pets on a daily basis – that’s something we knew all along.