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

The past few years have led to ever more detailed insights into the neuronal mechanisms of human social behavior. Without taking evolutionary aspects into account, our knowledge of human social behavior remains incomplete. Dogs are of particular interest for the study of evolutionary aspects of social behavior because they share a common history of several thousand years with us humans. The aim of this project is therefore to compare the neuronal basis of the social behavior of dogs and humans. Earlier comparative studies in dogs were primarily behavioral, and existing studies on dog brain function have primarily focused on non-social information processing. In this project, we want to investigate how dogs process people's actions, intentions, and emotions. For this we use the method of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), by means of which the brain activity of awake, specially trained domestic dogs can be examined. By comparing brain activity in humans in similar experiments, we want to show whether social information processing in dogs and humans is based on similar neuronal and cognitive foundations. We expect crucial new insights from our project on central questions of cognitive science and the (parallel) evolution of social cognition.

Supervisors: Univ.-Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Ludwig Huber, Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Claus Lamm, PD

Project collaborators: Lucrezia Lonardo (PhD student, Vetmeduni Vienna), Helena Manzenreiter, Laura Laussegger, Marion Umek (research assistants)

Term: 01.10.2019 – 30.09.2022

Funded by: WWTF