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Study shows why dogs respond to voices

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By Science
Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 8:39 p.m.

When you hear a friend's voice, you immediately picture her, even if you can't see her. And from the tone of her speech, you quickly gauge if she's happy or sad. You can do all of this because your human brain has a “voice area.” Now, scientists using MRIs and a crew of canines have discovered that dog brains, too, have dedicated voice areas. The finding helps explain how canines can be attuned to human feelings.

“It's absolutely brilliant, groundbreaking research,” said Pascal Belin, a neuroscientist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, who was part of the team that identified the voice areas in the human brain in 2000. “They've made the first comparative study using nonhuman primates of the cerebral processing of voices, and they've done it with a noninvasive technique by training dogs to lie in a scanner.”

The researchers from Hungary found that emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why dogs are attuned to human emotions.

The work is published in the journal Current Biology.

Attila Andics of the Hungarian Academy of Science said: “We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information.”

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