You may think your dog is excited at the sight of your face, but research published Monday suggests that unfortunately, she probably isn’t.
The study, in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows that dogs aren’t wired to focus on human faces. What does make their brains spark is the glimpse of another dog. The sight of a human? Not so much.
Through MRI scans of humans and dogs watching videos — of both humans and dogs — Hungarian scientists learned that while humans have a specialized brain region that lights up when a face comes into view, dogs do not. Both dogs and humans, however, do have a brain region that sparks when a member of the same species comes into view.
“Faces are central to human visual communication … and human brains are also specialized for faces,” study co-author Attila Andics, an animal behavior researcher at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, said in an email. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for man’s best friend.
Dogs do pay attention to human faces, Andics, said. “They read emotions from faces and they can recognize people from the face alone, but other bodily signals seem to be similarly informative to them.”
In other words, dogs may notice our faces, and even the expressions on them, but they use all sorts of other information, such as body language and voice cues, to tell what we are up to. Humans, on the other hand, value most what they see on a face.