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Head of the Group

Topál, József, DSc,scientific advisor


Research topics

The scientific investigations of the Psychobiology Research Group are related to the fields of cognitive development and the evolution of social cognition. Our studies contribute to a sophisticated understanding of the ontogenesis and the evolutionary roots of the human cognitive capacity through enquiries into the framework of early action interpretation, emotional development, social cognition, and basic cultural learning mechanisms. An overall feature of our experiments conducted with dogs, human infants and children is a method involving playful situations with the participation of both the dog/children and their owners/parents, with the aim of basic research enriching the whole of cognitive science. Thus we observe playful situations of imitation, choice between objects, simple and interesting animations, in order to reveal and refine a framework that explains general developmental charactersitics and cognitive processes.

The purpose of our current project is the exploratory investigation of neuronal and (epi)genetic mechanisms involved in the regulation of social behaviour in dogs in comparison with the corresponding human traits. Here we taken an integrative approach and ask how the innovative combination of neurocognitive methods and epigenetic profiling with ‘traditional’ behavious observations can improve our understanding of the human-like social competence in dogs. In other words, the main aim of this research is to bring together cutting-edge neuroscience and genotyping methods with effective and valid behaviour phenotyping, in order to compare human children’s/adults’ and dogs’ social behaviour and the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms. To ensure the systematic investigation of behaviour the project rely mainly on the communicative responsiveness to verbal addressing signals, but the effects of social stimulation and human interaction are also be assessed in naturalistic settings. We aim to further elaborate on neuroscience methods (eye tracking, fMRI, EEG) for studying how dogs, as compared to humans of different ages (infants, children, adults), process verbal ostensive addressing signals (‘motherese’) and/or complex verbal and visual social stimuli. The project is also aimed at studying the effects of neurohormonal and (epi)genetic control of social responsiveness in both humans and dogs.


partner: HAS-ELTE Comaprative Ethology Research Group

topic: Cognitive Ageing: A multidisciplinary approach to improve old dog’s welfare

topic: Neural processing of emotions: comparative investigations in dogs and humans

partner: ELTE PPK Dept. of Cognitive Psychology

topic: The cognitive bases of naive sociology.

partner: Institute of Behavioral Sciences, Semmelweis University,

topic: Development of a non-invasive polysomnography technique for dogs and conducting experiment with this method.