Canine fMRI Research Conducted by Mark Spivak Mentioned in Psychology Today

Canine fMRI- Danny Faces Experiment

Psychology Today contributor Stanley Coren, PhD devoted his May 21, 2015 “Canine Corner” column to the Danny Faces project undertaken collaboratively by Emory psychology professor Danny Dilks, Emory Lab Manager Sam Weiller, Emory neuroscience professor Greg Berns, Emory neuroscience postdoc Peter Cook, and CPT President and Head Trainer Mark Spivak.  Coren, who received his PhD in psychology from Stanford University, is a noted professor, researcher, and author.  He has received acclaim for his human research on visual processing, the origination and risks of left-handedness, and sleep deprivation.  Coren has also completed extolled research on canine behavior and the effects of human-canine interactions.  His book “The Intelligence of Dogs” was a popular bestseller, although highly controversial for its ranking of dog breeds from most to least intelligent and the methodology used to obtain the ranking.  Coren is likewise known for the books “The Left-Hander Syndrome: the Causes and Consequences of Left-Handedness” and “Sleep Thieves.”

The Emory-CPT canine fMRI research team’s recent project obtained attention from Coren due to his interest in visual processing and human-canine interaction.  Coren lauds how the Emory-CPT team became the first researchers to definitively demonstrate an explicit facial processing area in the canine brain.  Coren discussed the uniqueness and difficulty of the canine fMRI process developed by Berns and Spivak, the methodology of the experiment, the results of the experiment, and the importance of the experiment.

Coren was excited to learn that the results discovered that the subject dogs’ facial processing area activated not only to canine faces, but also to human faces!  The preceding fact, most likely due to a concept called coevolution, explains how dogs can adeptly follow human social cues delivered via facial countenance.  Moreover, in accordance with the precepts of coevolution, humans would be more likely to breed dogs that were more highly adept at interpreting human facial communication.

The information gleaned by the team provides new insights into canine visual processing and the canine mind.  More importantly, the findings may lead to advances in training and behavior modification techniques that emphasize or employ human-dog communication methodologies.

To read Stanley Coren’s Psychology Today article:  “Dog’s Brains are Tuned to Recognize Human Faces.”

To read a pre-print of the Emory-CPT Study: “Awake fMRI Reveals a Specialized Region in Dog Temporal Cortex for Face Processing.”

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