In a new study at Emory University in Atlanta science has found that dogs process numbers the same way as humans.
The dogs entered a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, where they were kept motionless. Resting their heads on a block, they focused on an array of light grey dots on a black background. The number of grey dots changed every 300 milliseconds, and as the number changed, researchers noted the activity in a region of the canine brain called the parietotemporal cortex. Known as the parietal cortex in the human brain, this brain function helps humans to process a change in numbers.
Our work not only shows that dogs use a similar part of their brain to process numbers of objects as humans do — it shows that they don’t need to be trained to do it,” Berns said in a release issued by Emory University.
Lauren Aulet, a psychologist at Emory, also participated in the study. She said understanding how dogs can detect changes in quantity could be a significant breakthrough. It is hoped the research will, down the road, offer scientists deeper insight into things like how to treat brain abnormalities.
“We went right to the source, observing the dogs’ brains, to get a direct understanding of what their neurons were doing when the dogs viewed varying quantities of dots. That allowed us to bypass the weaknesses of previous behavioral studies of dogs and some other species.”
“Part of the reason that we (humans) are able to do calculus and algebra is because we have this fundamental ability for numerosity that we share with other animals,” Aulet added. “I’m interested in learning how we evolved that higher math ability and how these skills develop over time in individuals, starting with basic numerosity in infancy.”
Michael Beran, psychologist at Georgia State University, told Science the study is compelling and exciting. “It further increases our confidence that (these representations of quantity in the brain) are ancient and widespread among species,” he said.