Results show the right side of the brain plays a more important part in regulating the sympathetic outflow to the heart – a fundamental organ for control of the fight or flight behavioural response.

Dogs can understand the emotions behind an expression on a human face and use different parts of their brains to process that emotion, according to a study.

The work further adds to research showing the canine brain can pick up on emotional cues contained in a person‘s voice, body odour and posture, and read their faces.

Facial images

In the study, scientists at the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy monitored reactions when they presented 26 feeding dogs with facial images of two adults expressing the six basic human emotions – anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise and disgust – or a neutral expression.

The authors reported: “A bias to turn the head towards the left (right hemisphere) rather than the right side was observed with human faces expressing anger, fear and happiness emotions, but an opposite bias (left hemisphere) was observed with human faces expressing surprise.“

Emotional modulation

The report continued: “Furthermore, dogs displayed higher behavioural and cardiac activity to pictures of human faces expressing clear arousal emotional state.

“Overall, the results demonstrated dogs are sensitive to emotional cues conveyed by human faces, supporting the existence of an asymmetrical emotional modulation of the canine brain to process basic human emotions.”

The results support that of other studies done on dogs and other mammals. These show the right side of the brain plays a more important part in regulating the sympathetic outflow to the heart.

This is a fundamental organ for the control of the fight or flight behavioural response necessary for survival.

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