Comparative brain imaging reveals analogous and divergent patterns of species and face sensitivity in humans and dogs

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Abstract

Conspecific-preference in social perception is evident for multiple sensory modalities and in many species. There is also a dedicated neural network for face processing in primates. However, the evolutionary origin and the relative role of neural species sensitivity and face sensitivity in visuo-social processing are largely unknown. In this comparative study, species sensitivity and face sensitivity to identical visual stimuli (videos of human and dog faces and occiputs) were examined using functional magnetic resonance imaging in dogs (n=20; 45% female) and humans (n=30; 50% female). In dogs, the bilateral mid suprasylvian gyrus showed conspecific-preference, no regions exhibited face-preference, and the majority of the visually-responsive cortex showed greater conspecific-preference than face-preference. In humans, conspecific-preferring regions (the right amygdala/hippocampus and the posterior superior temporal sulcus) also showed face-preference, and much of the visually-responsive cortex showed greater face-preference than conspecific-preference. Multivariate pattern analyses (MVPAs) identified species-sensitive regions in both species, but face-sensitive regions only in humans. Across-species representational similarity analyses (RSAs) revealed stronger correspondence between dog and human response patterns for distinguishing conspecific from heterospecific faces than other contrasts. Results unveil functional analogies in dog and human visuo-social processing of conspecificity but suggest that cortical specialization for face perception may not be ubiquitous across mammals.

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Bunford, N., Hernández-Pérez, R., Farkas, E. B., Cuaya, L. V., Szabó, D., Szabó, Á. G., … Andics, A. (2020). Comparative brain imaging reveals analogous and divergent patterns of species and face sensitivity in humans and dogs. Journal of Neuroscience, 40(43), 8396–8408. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2800-19.2020

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