How do dogs process what they see?

How do dogs process what they see?

For the first time, scientists have been able to take a look at how a dog’s mind reconstructs what it is looking at.

The results suggest that dogs are more attuned to actions in their environment rather than to who or what is doing the action.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta recorded functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) neural data for two dogs while they watched 30-minute videos of scenes relating to the lives of most dogs, as seen from their point of view. Activities in the videos included dogs being petted by people and receiving treats, as well as dogs sniffing, playing, eating or walking on a lead. There were also scenes showing cars, bikes or a scooter going by on a road; a cat walking in a house; a deer crossing a path; people sitting, eating, hugging or kissing; and people offering a rubber bone or a ball to the camera.

Two humans also underwent the same experiment, watching the same 30-minute videos.

The scientists used a machine-learning algorithm to analyse the patterns in the neural data — and the results suggest major differences in how the brains of humans and dogs work.

“We humans are very object oriented,” explained Gregory Berns, Emory professor of psychology and corresponding author of the study paper published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments. “There are 10 times as many nouns as there are verbs in the English language because we have a particular obsession with naming objects. Dogs appear to be less concerned with who or what they are seeing and more concerned with the action itself.”

Dogs and humans also have major differences in their visual systems, Berns noted. Dogs see only in shades of blue and yellow but have a higher density of vision receptors designed to detect motion.

“It makes perfect sense that dogs’ brains are going to be highly attuned to actions first and foremost,” the professor added. “Animals have to be very concerned with things happening in their environment to avoid being eaten or to monitor animals they might want to hunt. Action and movement are paramount.”

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