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Dog emotion study: High sensitivity to human voices, similar social environment

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A dog emotion study has yielded interesting results this week, revealing dogs’ high sensitivity to human voices and ability to feel happiness or sadness with their human owners via a similar social environment. While many people with pets may consider their family dog a member of the family and certainly capable of feeling emotions, a new scientific study has shown that these animals are particularly skilled in picking up cues in human speech and tone. Fox News shares this amazing find this Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, and how we humans may have more in commons with our canine pets than first thought.

While there has been little concrete proof in the past whether your pet dog could actually tell if you were feeling sad or happy, a dog emotion study may be proving that such an ability is indeed the case. A “Current Biology” research finding has asserted that dogs are very sensitive to the emotional cues within a variety of human voices. Animal and brain experts believe that the very same areas of the brain that register sounds, voice, and expressive interpretation for both humans and dogs evolved at roughly the same time in history, over 100 million years ago. At this time, it’s thought that both species (humans and dogs) were more closely linked to sharing a common ancestor.

"Dogs and humans share a similar social environment," Attila Andics, of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary, noted in their study. "Our findings suggest that they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information. This may support the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species."

Within the research experiment itself, animal experts trained a total of 11 dogs to remain entirely still in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (commonly known as an MRI) scanner. During that time for the different canines, the dog emotion study revolved around researchers examining the brain activity of both these pets and humans while listening to nearly 200 various human and dog sounds, from crying and screaming to barking and laughing.

Unsurprisingly, dogs reacted most notably to animal sounds from other dogs. Humans, meanwhile, reacted most strongly to noises produced from other humans. Nonetheless, each species were able to process the sounds — specifically created to be laden with different emotional tones — in remarkably similar ways, which researchers attest to a similar social environment. When hearing happy noises, for instance, both dogs and humans underwent a high ticking of the brain’s auditory cortex.

Overall, experts believe that this breaking dog emotion study will help people realize why and how our pet dogs are so skilled at sometimes “getting us” owners when no one else is able to due to their highly sensitive ability to pick up emotional cues. And it shouldn’t be surprising: after all, dogs are man’s best friend, no?

"This method offers a totally new way of investigating neural processing in dogs,” concluded an excited researcher. "At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment."

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