Study: Dogs Understand Emotions Like Humans


30 March, 2014

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

Researchers in Hungary have now confirmed what many dog owners already knew. Dogs or canines can understand our feelings. Scientists using a Magnetic Resonance Scanner, or MRI, to learn about dog emotions. The research showed that they are quite similar to the emotions of humans.

An MRI uses magnetic fields to produce images of the inside of the body. MRIs are painless, and do not require the patient to be cut open. However, the patient must remain still, and the patient must be awake to record brain activity.

Study: Dogs Understand Emotions Like Humans
Hungarian researchers trained eleven dogs to sit still in an MRI, allowing them to understand how dogs react to human sounds and emotions.

In the past, dogs have not being good MRI patients. They are not usually calm in a laboratory. But researchers at ELTE University in Hungary petted the dogs and gave them food treats. As a result, the scientists were able to capture images of the dogs' brains. Researcher Attila Andics says the study will help explain the relationships between dogs and humans.

"We have known for a long time that dogs and humans share similar social environment, but now our results show that dogs and humans also have similar brain mechanisms to process social information," said Andics.

Researchers trained 11 dogs to stay completely still while images were taken of their brains. The researchers tested the dogs' reactions to about 200 emotional sounds, including crying, playful barking and laughing. Then they compared the dog reactions with reactions from humans in the study. The researchers discovered that the reactions were similar.

The dog brain is also being studied at Duke University, in North Carolina. Evan MacLean is the Co-Director of the school's Canine Cognition Center. He feels the Hungarian results are an important step forward.

"We've known for a long time that dogs have a lot of behavioral similarities compared to humans. But we don't know anything or very little at least about whether some of these behaviors are represented similarly inside the brain of the dog, so this research is providing a first glimpses to whether these behavioral similarities are underlined by similar neural processes," said MacLean.

This findings are not just important to dogs and the people who love them. Mr Andics says that the study establishes a new type of comparative brain science, it expands the possibilities for research.

He says it was not possible to measure the brain activities of a non-primate and a primate in a single experiment until now. And the Hungarian scientists say the study has a message for ordinary dog owners too, treat your dogs as a friend, and not just an animal. Now, there is scientific proof that they do in fact understand what you are feeling.

And that's the Technology Report from VOA Learning English. I'm Jonathan Evans.