Science  28 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6174, pp. 955
  1. Pooch Brains Attuned to Voices


    A dog fitted with headphones prepares for an MRI.


    Dog owners can attest to the uncanny canine ability to read a person's tone of voice. New research reveals a surprising mechanism behind this skill: Dog brains have a dedicated "voice area." In humans, this area is activated when we hear others speak, helping us recognize a speaker's identity and pick up on emotional content in her voice.

    To find out if the canine brain processes sound similarly, a team of neuroscientists trained 11 dogs to lie motionless in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner while wearing headphones that played nearly 200 dog and human sounds, including whines, playful barks, and laughs. The group also scanned the brains of 22 human subjects who listened to the same sounds.

    The researchers found similarities in how dog and human brains process emotionally laden sounds, they reported last week in Current Biology. Voice areas were once thought to be unique to primates and tied to the evolution of language, but their presence in dogs suggests they evolved at least 100 million years ago.

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