Attila Andics, a neurobiologist at the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest recently led a study in which 11 dogs performed the amazing feat of sitting still long enough in an MRI machine to have their brain activity analyzed.
They stayed in the machine long enough to listen to 200 different voices and barks in order to map the active areas of their brains during the differing tones of voice.
“When you looked at how dogs respond to emotional cues in sounds, it’s very similar to how humans respond,” Andics says. “It’s in the same brain region … and is stronger with positive vocalizations than negative ones…Like people, dogs use simple acoustic parameters to extract out the feelings from a sound. For instance, when you laugh, ‘Ha ha ha,’ it has short, quick pieces. But if you make the pieces longer, ‘Haaaa, haaaa, haaaa,’ it starts to sound like crying or whining. This is what people — and dogs — pay attention to.”