Scientists at the University of Mexico believe that dogs are able to recognize human faces and read facial expressions after completing a new study, which was published recently in Plus One.
The researchers trained five Border Collies, one Golden Retriever, and one Labrador Retriever to remain still in an MRI scanner so that they could study brain activity while the dogs looked at images of human faces and inanimate objects.
“It is well known that humans have specific brain regions for the processing of other human faces, yet it is unclear how dogs’ brains process human faces,” the scientists explained.
They found that the dogs’ temporal cortex, which is involved in processing images like faces, was active when shown human faces. The area of the brain used for reward processes also lit up when shown humans, but was less active when the dogs were shown inanimate objects. Researchers believe this means that dogs find human faces “intrinsically more rewarding than the sight of an object.”
So what does that mean, exactly?
“Basically the same areas of the brain triggered in dogs as it does in humans in terms of reading and understanding facial cues," said Bradley Smith, an animal behaviorist from the Central Queensland University said in an Australian news article.
Scientists believe this finding shows that dogs and humans share a rich social relationship.
“Given the importance of the faces for social behavior, we see this study as the beginning of new efforts to find the cerebral correlates of the perception and processing of faces in dogs,” they wrote.
“The recognition of human faces by dogs could be an essential factor for establishing attachment with humans.”