Prof. Gopikrishna Deshpande (Auburn University, USA)

Dog‐Human Social Attachment

May 2, 2019 | 5 pm

The current study was developed to investigate the behavioral and neural indices of the dog‐ human social bond. Specifically, we were most interested in behavioral and neural metrics mediated by a dog’s history and relationship with a particular human being. Such behavioral and neural metrics are particularly relevant to working dogs studied here, as their human handlers serve as both a companion and an instructor. We hypothesized that detecting the familiarity and emotions in human faces must support such inter‐species social attachment, which is unique in the mammalian world. First, we behaviorally characterized the dog‐human social bond using the unsolvable task. We then set out to find the neural basis of familiarity and emotion processing of human faces in the dog brain and their correlation with bio‐behavioral indices of attachment. This was accomplished by imaging dogs using fMRI while they were awake, unrestrained and exposed to familiar and unfamiliar human faces, which had positive, neutral, and negative emotional expressions using videos (which may be more salient to dogs) and still images. We found that regions such as the caudate, hippocampus and amygdala, implicated in reward, familiarity judgments and emotion processing, respectively, in humans, were activated in dogs. Further, the magnitude of activation in these regions correlated with the duration for which the dogs looked at the familiar (as opposed to unfamiliar) person in the out‐of‐scanner unsolvable task. We believe that these findings provide a neural basis for the dog‐human social bond in terms of the ability of the dog brain to process familiarity and emotions in human faces. They also suggest a phylogenetically based face processing system shared between dogs and humans and validate a bio‐ behavioral assessment of individual dog preference for familiarity.

Department of Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods (SCAN unit)
Faculty of Psychology (Lecture hall G, 2nd floor, left wing)