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Dogs perceive faces and bodies the same way humans do

Dogs and humans both use the same area of the brain to perceive faces and body posture, new research reveals.

Researchers from the University of Vienna studied 15 dogs and 40 humans that underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging scans while they were shown pictures of human and dog faces, human and dog bodies, and everyday inanimate objects such as toys or chairs. The face and body images showed a variety of postures, neutral and positive emotions, and different perspectives.

The researchers found the first evidence that, like humans, dogs possess a region in the temporal lobe that specialises in visually perceiving body postures. They also found three other regions in the dog brain with a preference for perceiving faces and bodies compared to inanimate objects.

Lead author Magdalena Boch said: “We humans often focus on the face when communicating with others. Our results suggest that faces are also an important source of information for dogs. However, body postures and holistic perception seem to play a superior role.”

However, instead of affecting brain regions associated with vision, which happens in humans, the researchers found that when dogs look at faces and bodies, the parts of their brains responsible for processing smells are activated. The researchers say this finding reflects dogs’ high smell sensitivity and the interplay between smell and vision to infer social and contextual information.

The specialised brain regions seen in the dogs’ brains were equally active regardless of whether they were looking at humans or other dogs. This reflects our long relationship with dogs, according to the researchers.

The study was published in the journal Communications Biology.

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