Anyone who owns a dog can tell you that they know how you’re feeling. They’re there to comfort you, share in your joy, and cuddle up just when you need it. Well now science can back up what we already know. Researchers at the University of Mexico tested dogs with MRI scans to see how they reacted to human facial expressions and found that they do, indeed, have a strong fluctuation in brain activity in response to our facial cues.
The experiment involved training dogs to lie perfectly still in an MRI scanner, which isn’t easy considering how long they have to be still and how noisy the machine can be. Next, researchers showed the dogs pictures of everyday objects and human faces. The MRI revealed that dogs brains lit up in certain areas that indicated that they were examining the human faces much more closely and trying to “read” them. Other animals tend to be able to read faces of their own species, but dogs are so closely tuned in to human emotions that they read our faces in a similar way. In fact, the same areas of the brain that humans use to recognize each other were found to be activated in the dogs of the study.
Dogs have evolved over thousands of years to be our companions and to work with us. It’s especially important for hunting breeds and other dogs that work with humans to be able to recognize and respond to our emotions. Nathan Williams, a dog behavior specialist, says that dogs are able to recognize subtle cues that even humans can’t understand. That’s part of what makes them our best friends.
Does your dog know how you’re feeling? Are you surprised by the results of the study? Let us know in the comments below!