New research reveals surprising revelations about our dogs understanding of our speech patterns and words.
This will certainly come as no surprise to dog owners, but for those who don’t have a close relationship with man’s best friend, scientists have new research that shows for certain that dogs understand what we are saying to them. Well, at least some of it, according to an article on NPR.org.
The article cites a report in the journal Science, that says dogs’ brains lit up when they heard words from humans praising them and after hearing an approving intonation, but not random words spoken in the same way as praising them, or words of praise spoken without inflection in the voice.
According to Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, when dogs hear speech, they appear to separate the meaning of the words they hear from the intonation, and use different sides of the brain to process the information or sounds. The researchers found the dogs use the left hemisphere to process meaning, while the right analyzed intonation.
The team used an imaging machine to study the brains of the dogs, and probably the most difficult part of the research was the training of the dogs to remain motionless during the process. The subject dogs were trained using a method developed by Marta Gacsi, which allowed the dogs to leave the machine at any point, but they understood their human companions were pleased when they remained still.
“The difficult aspect of the training was to convince dogs that ‘motionless’ means really motionless,” says Andics. “They can’t move more than 3 millimeters in any direction, otherwise we have to throw out all of the data.”
He added, “”They are really happy to participate.”
Andics continued by saying that since the dogs were inside the machine, they could only hear the voices and couldn’t see their companions. That meant the only information the dogs had was the speech signal.
“What we saw is that for praise to be processed as a reward, when there is no other supporting information, both word meaning and intonation have to fit,” continued Andics.
Brian Hare, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences in Durham, N.C., adds the study was important because it involved awake animals, as compared to similar studies that were done on restrained or drugged subjects.
“That just changes everything,” he remarked. “You literally can see what’s going on in their brains just like you would with people. And it’s really the first time that this has led to a big discovery and I think we’re going to see a lot more of this.”