About the research

What we are doing

In the Animal Mind we use have proved that top quality research with innovative openings is not compromised when non-invasive methods are preferred. Importantly, these methods enable comparative experimentation between animals and humans.

What we have gained

Eye movements reveal the canine mind

Gaze patterns provide us a window to the animal mind. With eye tracking studies, we have proved that the human’s best friend recognizes human and conspecific faces and are capable to read the information content from them.

For example, they prefer viewing face pictures over inanimate objects, they distinguish between familiar and strange faces, and response appropriately the emotional content of them. Dogs evaluate social threat signals rapidly. Threatening faces of conspecifics evoking the opposite response compared to angry human faces, suggesting that threat signals carrying differential biological validity are processed via distinctive neurocognitive pathways. Furthermore, our recent study comparing humans and dogs in similar study setup revealed that dogs gazed longer at the interaction of humans, whereas humans instead gazed longer at the interactions of dogs indicating that processing social interactions of non-conspecifics may require more effortful processing.

Cortical activation

We were the first group to report visual task-related cortical activity recorded fully non-invasively from the awake and non-restrained dogs. We employed a non-invasive electroencephalography, with adhesive electrodes attached to the top of the skin, to measure brain activity of dogs while they stayed still to observe photos of dog and human faces. The results suggest task-related reactivity of the oscillatory activity in the dog brain. Moreover, the visual event-related potentials (ERPs) were detected, arising from brain areas similar to those in the human brain.

These results expand the dog cognitive neuroscience by demonstrating the feasibility of fully non-invasive scalp-EEG measurements, providing millisecond-scale temporal information, in both individual and at the group-level study of the dog mind. Brain research is done together with Aalto University School of Science.

Mind-affecting medicines

Proper pain alleviation is an integral part of high quality animal care. Our main research focus has been in improvement of the safety of drugs used for alleviation of pain and stress in dogs, horses, and sheep. In the intensive series of studies we have found a method to improve safety of certain widely used veterinary medicines. This paramount alpha-2 project has already produced two patent applications to the group.

Translational aspect is strong in our studies as humans and dogs share diseases and both species are medicated with the same drugs. Our comparative methods open a new avenue to improve detection and treatment of psychological difficulties in humans and behavioral problems in dogs; including clinical evaluation of the efficacy of pain alleviation.

The eye tracking is the most sensitive method to test efficacy of drugs affecting the central nervous system. We cannot ask animals, how they feel, but combining our expertise in veterinary pharmacology and canine eye tracking gives us unique neuropsychological information on an individual dog. Veterinary patients will benefit of these results

Thermograms express local inflammations and emotions

Thermograms express superficial temperatures of the animal’s different parts of the body. Temperature differences reflect alterations in the intensity of superficial circulation. Accordingly, we have proved that e.g. a joint inflammation can be confirmed by a thermogram. This is most important in species, such as cats, who do not easily present pain behavior.

Recent research interests

  • emotions
  • cognitive affective biases
  • visual cognition
  • personality
  • behavior problems
  • pain
  • veterinary medicines affecting the central nervous system

Research methods

  • eye tracking
  • non-invasive electroencephalography
  • thermography
  • physiological measurements: heart rate, heart rate variability, electrocardiography, hormones
  • pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics
  • behavioral tests
  • human self-report questionnaires (behavior, personality, empathy, etc.)