Seminar Series

Voice areas in dog and human brains - a comparative fMRI study

The efficient processing of conspecificity and emotional information in vocalizations is fundamental in both primate and non-primate species for making decisions in behaviour contexts like mate choice, territory disputes or hierarchy-related challenges. Non-primary auditory brain regions preferring conspecific vocalizations were found in both humans (Belin et al., 2000) and non-human primates (Petkov et al., 2008), suggesting that ‘voice areas’ evolved at least 30 million years ago. In humans, auditory regions sensitive to vocal emotional cues have also been identified. Nevertheless, little is known about the underlying neural mechanisms of vocalization processing in non-primates. In this talk I present the first comparative neuroimaging study of a non-primate and a primate species (Andics et al., 2014). We tested awake dogs (n=11) and humans (n=22) that were unrestrained and instructed to lay motionless in an fMRI scanner for three 6-min runs. Dogs and humans have shared a similar social environment for tens of thousands of years. Dog and human vocalizations are thus familiar and relevant to both species, although they belong to evolutionarily distant taxa, as their lineages split approximately 90-100 million years ago. We presented dogs and humans with the same set of vocal and non-vocal stimuli to search for functionally analogous voice-sensitive cortical regions. We demonstrate that voice areas exist in dogs, and that they show a similar pattern to anterior temporal voice areas in humans. Our findings also reveal that sensitivity to vocal emotional valence cues engages similarly located non-primary auditory regions in dogs and humans. Although parallel evolution cannot be excluded, our findings suggest that voice areas may have a more ancient evolutionary origin than previously known.