Dr. Berns will discuss how the domestic dog’s accessibility, social intelligence, and co-evolutionary history with humans provides a unique opportunity to study homologous brain function in a naturalistic way that cannot be done with any other species. Dr. Berns will show how dogs can be trained to cooperatively participate in fMRI studies – without restraint or anesthesia – and how this has opened up a wealth of new data about canine brain function. These results have identified the circuitry of potentially homologous functions ranging from reward and face processing to rudiments of language perception. And because dogs live with humans, they offer a unique opportunity to study the neurobiology of inter-species social cognition. Machine-learning approaches can be used to “decode” the dog brain. Finally, because the dogs participate in repeated scan sessions over their lifetimes, the project has created a unique longitudinal cohort, which, in some cases has allowed the detection of CNS tumors before symptoms appear and the monitoring of tumor regression following radiation treatment.
Dr. Berns is the Distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics and Psychology at Emory University, where he directs the Facility for Education & Research in Neuroscience. Trained as a biomedical engineer, he was also a practicing psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University and was one of the founding members of the field of neuroeconomics, using fMRI to study mechanisms of decision-making in humans. In 2011, he launched an effort to train dogs to cooperatively participate in fMRI studies, resulting in the first demonstration of its feasibility. Since then, he has trained and scanned 100 dogs on a wide variety of cognitive paradigms.