Human facial recognition isn’t that big a deal for our dogs.
Facial recognition is mainly how humans primarily recognize each other, and while our dogs do as well, they don’t rely on it as exclusively as humans.
A team of nine scientists are credited as the authors of the study, which bore the headline “Comparative Brain Imaging Reveals Analogous and Divergent Patterns of Species- and Face-Sensitivity in Humans and Dogs.” Nora Bunford was credited as the lead author.
A selection of 30 humans and a selection of 20 specially-trained pet dogs were both hooked up to MRI machines and shown identical videos of humans and dogs, and then the MRI measured which areas of the brain lit up in response.
“Faces are central to human visual communication … and human brains are also specialized for faces,” study co-author Attila Andics told NBC News.
Andics is an animal behavior researcher at Eotvos Lorand University, which is located in Budapest, Hungary.
This makes sense, because humans’ other senses are considerably less important in making a good first impression on people (smell sometimes plays a role in a negative sense). Facial recognition is important because we use vision as our main source of evaluating new information of a stranger (why good photos are vital for dating apps for example).
But since dogs use smell as their primary information source on encountering new information, they recognize other dogs on TV but still sniff butts at meeting a new canine friend.
In the study, human brains lit up way more when shown a human face as compared to the back of a human head, because hairstyles don’t usually work well as primary visual identifiers of strangers, which is obvious from covering high school girls basketball – eventually you learn who is who by hairstyle if you can’t see their numbers, but it takes a few games to get that down. Human faces also lit up a specific region of the brain more than dog faces.
Dog brains registered the same for human heads, whether they saw the front or the back, and dog faces were more interesting.
“Mother Nature will not invest in something that is not relevant to survival, either in dog-to-dog or even wolf-to-wolf interactions,” said Penn Vet Med associate professor of clinical behavior medicine Dr. Carlo Siracusa,
Basically, while facial recognition is helpful for dogs, it’s not as important in understanding and conveying information.