The Dog Brain is not Coded to Recognize Human Faces

Jan 6, 2022 | Wellness

Dog parents love looking at their dog’s charming eyes to understand their emotions, but a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that a dog’s brain may not decode faces like a human brain does. 

For the study, the researchers recruited 20 family dogs and 30 humans. The participants were shown short color video clips of the front and back of dogs and human faces. As the participants viewed the video clips, the researchers captured their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (ƒMRI). The ƒMRI measures blood flow to indicate the activity of the various brain regions. 

Upon analyzing the ƒMRI data, the researchers found that the visual regions in the human brains showed greater activity in response to a face than the back of the head. Further, a small subset of these regions showed increased activity in response to seeing human faces than dog faces, displaying a species preference. They noted a species preference in dogs as well – the visual regions in dog brains showed greater activity in response to seeing dog faces than human faces. However, there was no activity difference in dog brains while viewing the face and back of the head. 

Dogs’ vision may be programmed differently compared with that of humans; however, they perceive speech like humans do. 

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers examined the brain activity in 12 pet dogs in response to speech (in praising and neutral tones). Analysis of the fMRI data revealed that they take the emotional cues first, that is, process the tone first and then the speech. 

Read More:  What Makes Cats Knead?

Thus, dogs tend to rely more on other senses to collect information than on visual cues. 


Woodward A. You may love your dogs’ faces, but they don’t particularly care for yours. Canines would rather look at other dogs, new research shows.

Published October 10, 2020. Accessed June 3, 2021. 

Bunford N, et al. JNeurosci. 2020;40(43):8396-8408.

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