You hear your mother’s voice from behind a curtain but as the person comes into view there is a stranger standing before you. A moment of confusion flashes through your brain as you struggle to integrate conflicting memory elicited by the voice with the face you are seeing. You do a double-take. In more descriptive terms, you will look at the face for a much longer time had the voice matched the face and your expectation met.
Human babies experiencing violation-of-expectation will also look at the situation for longer time than when what they see violates their expectation.
Dogs do it too.
In a set of trials, dogs were presented with a recording of their owner’s voice followed by two possibilities; a monitor with their owner’s face (congruent) or a stranger’s face, the incongruent condition.
When experiencing incongruent conditions, the dogs will spend longer time looking at the face than when the owner’s face matched his/her voice. The results may suggest the owner’s voice results in an internal visual representation of the owner’s face and a violation of expectation results in prolonged looking times – just like babies.
In a second experiment a stranger’s voice was presented, first followed by the congruent condition (stranger’s face) or incongruent condition (owner’s face) and again the dogs spent more time looking at the incongruent condition (ie. stranger’s voice + owner’s face) than the congruent condition. One can infer that the dogs were not expecting the owner’s face when hearing the stranger’s voice.
Like humans, dogs are forming an expectation for one sensory modality based on another and that is something we do all the time. Because of the obvious evolutionary advantage it might turn out that humans and dog (and other mammals) are even using analogous neural pathways to integrate auditory and visual information. In the illustrious words of Data (Star Trek Next Generation), “We are more alike than unlike“
When I hear my mother’s voice, I see her face pops into my mind; it appears that my dogs have a similar experience when they hear my voice. So maybe I am a doggy-dad after all.
…… I wonder if it works with olfaction too?
Adachi I, Kuwahata H, & Fujita K (2007). Dogs recall their owner’s face upon hearing the owner’s voice. Animal cognition, 10 (1), 17-21 PMID: 16802145