Research topic

It is now widely accepted that the behaviour of a species (including humans) is shaped by the environment to which it has adapted during evolution. Increasing evidence support the notion that dogs possess social-communication skills that could resemble in many respects the human(infant)’s corresponding skills. It is also widely accepted that these behavioural similarities can be attributed to dogs’ unique domestication history (i.e. to dogs’ adaptation to human social environment). Although the complexity of the dog and human mind is evidently different, the aim of our research is to study whether, in addition to the behavioural similarities between dogs and children, there are functional similarities in the neural-, hormonal- and epigenetic mechanisms underlying some of these social behaviours. Our research programme innovatively combines traditional behavioural observations with modern neurocognitive methods (fMRI, EEG) and the analysis of gene x environment interactions (epigenetic profiling). The results will bring us closer to unravelling those hidden mechanisms that underlie the parallel evolution of the social-cognition in dogs and humans.

Research grants

OTKA K 112138 -Comparative investigation of the social-cognitive mechanisms in dogs and humans: an innovative methodological approach.

MTA FIKU -The role of social categorization in social learning processes.

OTKA PD 121038 -Responsiveness to social addressing signals in dogs and humans: a comparative approach.

Bial Foundation -The potential effect of behavioral stimulation on social competence in dogs (via endogenous oxytocin release).

MTA PD –The dog as a model for the social-cognitive deficits in autism spectrum disorder.

Collaborative Partners

Department of Ethology, Eötvös University Budapest

Faculty of Education and Psychology, Eötvös University Budapest

Semmelweis University

Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Romania

University of Helsinki Finnland

Messerli Institute Vienna, Austria


József Topál