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This research proves dogs make excellent therapists

A study found canines process voices – and the emotions attached to them – in a similar way to humans.

Image: pug on chair image via Shutterstock

PEOPLE MIGHT THINK you’re a bit mad if they see you walking down the street having a very serious conversation with your dog about how annoying your other half is being today.

A new study published this week could give you some piece of mind, as researchers found that your dog is actually pretty in tune with what you’re feeling and so is a perfectly reasonable therapist (apart from not actually being able to talk back to you).

The research, by the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary, found that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains, just like humans, that allow them to distinguish between different types of voices and the emotions attached to them.

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Pooches taking part in the study were trained to lay motionless in an fMRI brain scanner so that their brain activities could be monitored. Researchers captured both dogs’ and humans’ brain activities while the subjects listened to nearly 200 dog and human sounds, ranging from whining or crying to playful barking or laughing.

The images show that dog and human brains include voice areas in similar locations. Not surprisingly, the voice area of dogs responds more strongly to other dogs while that of humans responds more strongly to other humans.

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There were also similarities in the ways dogs and humans process emotionally loaded sounds and researchers said this is the first step toward understanding how it is that dogs can be so remarkably good at tuning into the feelings of their human owners.

“This method offers a totally new way of investigating neural processing in dogs,” Attila Andics of the research group said. “At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment.”

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