Through the eyes of a dog: scientists have found out how pets perceive the world around them

Employees at Emory University in the US used fMRI and artificial intelligence to decipher the visual images that a dog sees. The researchers found that pets are more concerned about not the objects themselves, but their actions.

To do this, the scientists showed the dogs inside the MRI machine three videos 30 minutes long each with frames of running dogs and people, driving cars, as well as cats. The researchers divided the videos into categories: to identify reactions to actions (running, feeding and playing) and objects (people, cats and dogs). The scientists then used a machine learning algorithm to analyze patterns in the neural data.

Bubo the dog poses with his owner before the start of the experiment. Image: Emory Canine Cognitive Neuroscience Lab

The experiment involved two dogs: Daisy and Bhubo. Both were able to lie perfectly still without being strapped in and watch a series of 30-minute videos without interruption.

In order for artificial intelligence to be able to compare data from the human and canine brains, the scientists called two people to watch the same videos and undergo an MRI scan.

Daisy the dog during the experiment. Image: Emory Canine Cognitive Neuroscience Lab

An analysis of the neural network data showed that dogs are much better at concentrating their attention on actions, but with objects, patterns in the data obtained were not traced at all.

We humans are very object-oriented. The English language has 10 times more nouns than verbs because we have a special obsession with naming objects. Dogs seem to be less concerned with who or what they see and more interested in the action itself.

Gregory Burns

professor of psychology Emory

Dogs and humans also have big differences in their visual systems, notes Dr. Burns. Pets only see in shades of blue and yellow, but have a slightly higher density of visual receptors designed to detect movement. This may be due to the large number of threats to animals coming from the outside world.

The authors of this study noted that their work should give rise to new similar experiments that will bring closer understanding of the thoughts and emotions of animals.

While our work is based on only two dogs, it provides proof of concept that these methods work in principle on dogs. I hope this article helps pave the way for other researchers to apply the data to other species and gain more insight and a broader understanding of how the minds of different animals work.

Erin Phillips

study author

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