Dogs have been shown to excel in reading human social cues, including facial cues. In the present study we used eye-tracking technology to further study dogs’ face processing abilities. It was found that dogs discriminated between human facial regions in their spontaneous viewing pattern and looked most to the eye region independently of facial expression. Furthermore dogs played most attention to the first two images presented, afterwards their attention dramatically decreases; a finding that has methodological implications. Increasing evidence indicates that the oxytocin system is involved in dogs’ human-directed social competence, thus as a next step we investigated the effects of oxytocin on processing of human facial emotions. It was found that oxytocin decreases dogs’ looking to the human faces expressing angry emotional expression. More interestingly, however, after oxytocin pre-treatment dogs’ preferential gaze toward the eye region when processing happy human facial expressions disappears. These results provide the first evidence that oxytocin is involved in the regulation of human face processing in dogs. The present study is one of the few empirical investigations that explore eye gaze patterns in naïve and untrained pet dogs using a non-invasive eye-tracking technique and thus offers unique but largely untapped method for studying social cognition in dogs.
- Face processing
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience