Psychology Magazine

How Human Breeding Has Changed Dogs’ Brains

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
Hecht et al. have identified brain networks in dogs related to behavioral specializations roughly corresponding to sight hunting, scent hunting, guarding, and companionship. Here is their detailed abstract:
Humans have bred different lineages of domestic dogs for different tasks such as hunting, herding, guarding, or companionship. These behavioral differences must be the result of underlying neural differences, but surprisingly, this topic has gone largely unexplored. The current study examined whether and how selective breeding by humans has altered the gross organization of the brain in dogs. We assessed regional volumetric variation in MRI studies of 62 male and female dogs of 33 breeds. Neuroanatomical variation is plainly visible across breeds. This variation is distributed nonrandomly across the brain. A whole-brain, data-driven independent components analysis established that specific regional subnetworks covary significantly with each other. Variation in these networks is not simply the result of variation in total brain size, total body size, or skull shape. Furthermore, the anatomy of these networks correlates significantly with different behavioral specialization(s) such as sight hunting, scent hunting, guarding, and companionship. Importantly, a phylogenetic analysis revealed that most change has occurred in the terminal branches of the dog phylogenetic tree, indicating strong, recent selection in individual breeds. Together, these results establish that brain anatomy varies significantly in dogs, likely due to human-applied selection for behavior.

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