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Convergent evolution of the social brain? A comparative dog-human fMRI approach

Recent years have provided increasingly detailed insights into the neural mechanisms of human social cognition. However, our knowledge about human sociality remains incomplete without considering its evolutionary roots. In the last decade, dogs have become the second main non-human model of social cognition besides primates. Dogs are of special interest for evolutionary models of social cognition as humans share a common history of several thousand years with them. Previous comparative research on dogs has been predominantly behavioral, and the few studies on dogs’ brain function have focused on non-social information processing. The present proposal will overcome this limitation and investigate how dogs process the actions, emotions and intentions of other dogs, and of humans. We will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and measure neural responses in dogs specifically trained to participate in social cognitive neuroscience experiments. Matching experiments in humans will allow us to test the key hypothesis that social information processing relies on similar neuro-cognitive and -affective mechanisms in dogs and humans. In three main areas, imitation, empathy and Theory of Mind, we will furthermore investigate whether social cues from con- and heterospecifics are processed in a similar way by dogs and humans. This will generate crucial new insights into central questions of cognitive science about the (convergent) evolution of social cognition.
Coordination for vetmeduni vienna
Huber Ludwig
Coordination in general
Prof. Claus Lamm
Universität Wien, Universitätsring 1, 1010 Wien, Austria
WWTF Cognitive Sciences Call 2018
Type of Research
Basic research
Huber L.,
Vetmed Research Units
Messerli Research Institute, Comparative Cognition
Projekt partner
Contact: Prof. Christian Windischberger
Medizinische Universität Wien, Spitalgasse 23, 1090 Wien, Austria
Funded by
Wiener Wissenschafts-, Forschungs- und Technologiefonds (WWTF), Wien, Austria
7 Publications

Völter, CJ; Huber, L (2021): Dogs' looking times and pupil dilation response reveal expectations about contact causality. Biol Lett. 2021; 17(12):20210465
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Karl, S; Sladky, R; Lamm, C; Huber, L (2021): Neural Responses of Pet Dogs Witnessing Their Caregiver's Positive Interactions with a Conspecific: An fMRI Study. Cereb Cortex Commun. 2021; 2(3):tgab047
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Lonardo, L; Völter, CJ; Lamm, C; Huber, L (2021): Dogs follow human misleading suggestions more often when the informant has a false belief. Proc Biol Sci. 2021; 288(1955):20210906

Völter, CJ; Lambert, ML; Huber, L (2020): Do nonhumans seek explanations? Animal Behavior and Cognition 2020; 7(3): 445-451.
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Karl, S; Boch, M; Zamansky, A; van der Linden, D; Wagner, IC; Völter, CJ; Lamm, C; Huber, L (2020): Exploring the dog-human relationship by combining fMRI, eye-tracking and behavioural measures. Sci Rep. 2020; 10(1):22273
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Völter, CJ; Karl, S; Huber, L (2020): Dogs accurately track a moving object on a screen and anticipate its destination. Sci Rep. 2020; 10(1):19832
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Boch, M; Karl, S; Sladky, R; Huber, L; Lamm, C; Wagner, IC (2021): Tailored haemodynamic response function increases detection power of fMRI in awake dogs (Canis familiaris). Neuroimage. 2021; 224:117414
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