Dog brains process both what we say and how we say it, study shows

August 30, 2016, Eötvös Loránd University
Trained dogs are around the fMRI scanner. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Sept. 2, 2016 issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by A. Andics at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, and colleagues was titled, "Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs." Credit: Enik Kubinyi

The first study to investigate how dog brains process speech shows that our best friends in the animal kingdom care about both what we say and how we say it. Dogs, like people, use the left hemisphere to process words, a right hemisphere brain region to process intonation, and praising activates dog's reward center only when both words and intonation match, according to a study in Science.

The findings of a Hungarian research group suggest that the neural mechanisms to process words evolved much earlier than previously thought, and they are not unique to the human brain, the researchers say. It shows that if an environment is rich in speech, as is the case of family dogs, word meaning representations can arise in the brain, even in a non-primate mammal that is not able to speak.

"During speech processing, there is a well-known distribution of labor in the human brain. It is mainly the left hemisphere's job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere's job to process intonation. The not only separately analyzes what we say and how we say it, but also integrates the two types of information, to arrive at a unified meaning. Our findings suggest that dogs can also do all that, and they use very similar brain mechanisms," said lead researcher Attila Andics of Department of Ethology and MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest.

"We trained thirteen dogs to lay completely motionless in an fMRI brain scanner. fMRI provides a non-invasive, harmless way of measurement that dogs enjoy to take part of," said Márta Gácsi, ethologist, the developer of the training method, author of the study. "We measured dogs' brain activity as they listened to their trainer's speech," explains Anna Gábor,

PhD student, author of the study. "Dogs heard praise words in praising intonation, praise words in neutral intonation, and also neutral conjunction words, meaningless to them, in praising and neutral intonations. We looked for that differentiated between meaningful and meaningless words, or between praising and non-praising intonations."

The brain activation images showed that dogs prefer to use their left hemisphere to process meaningful but not meaningless words. This left bias was present for weak and strong levels of brain activations as well, and it was independent of intonation. Dogs activate a right hemisphere brain area to tell apart praising and non-praising intonation. This was the same auditory brain region that this group of researchers previously found in dogs for processing emotional non-speech sounds

from both dogs and humans, suggesting that intonation processing mechanisms are not specific to speech.

Dogs are lying motionless and listening to their trainer. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Sept. 2, 2016 issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by A. Andics at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, and colleagues was titled, "Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs." Credit: Borbála Ferenczy

Andics and colleagues also noted that praise activated dogs' – the region which responds to all sorts of pleasurable stimuli, like food, sex, being petted, or even nice music in humans. Importantly, the reward center was active only when dogs heard praise words in praising intonation. "It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and match. So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it,

but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant. Again, this is very similar to what human brains do," Andics said.

This study is the first step to understanding how dogs interpret human speech, and these results can also help to make communication and cooperation between and humans even more efficient, the researchers say.

Trained dogs are around the fMRI scanner. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Sept. 2, 2016, issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by A. Andics at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, and colleagues was titled, "Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs." Credit: Enik Kubinyi

These findings also have important conclusions about humans. "Our research sheds new light on the emergence of words during language evolution. What makes uniquely human is not a special neural capacity, but our invention of using them," Andics explains.

Explore further: Dogs hear our words and how we say them

More information: Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs, Science, science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aaf3777

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pjlueck
5 / 5 (3) Aug 30, 2016
I know this is simplistic... but I want to say.. "well....is that news??" Now that I have that out of the way... I have observed this behavior in dogs for 50 years. Glad to see proof. I had a German Shepard mix..who, when asked: "Go find Mom!" would actually look up at the ceiling...just like humans...stare for 4 or 5 seconds...and then go the most likely room to find her. In my mind, proof positive of deep reflection on the best way to go about a task. Love 'em all.
betterexists
not rated yet Aug 30, 2016
Do This! Rather, Keep That Dog Hungry. Make Recorded Owner's Voice to come on automatically when the owner is out instructing it to to do a certain thing, a small task to get its food to drop as usual from the roof into its Food Basket!
If the Dog was doing it when the owner was there, it should do it in the owner's absence too!
Try it on a Parrot and Cat also. Watch their response on the Smartphone.
brahmix
not rated yet Aug 31, 2016
6 pm my dog rocks up, I ask: "are you hungry?" she would vigorously shake her head, ears making an almost 'clapping' sound (Beagle). Then I ask: "you want some food?" - she then takes the play stance and made this adorable sound, like 'hmmmm' with vibrato. I can say anything else in the same tone, and not get these responses. I can say the same words in a lower tone, like I am unhappy - then her reaction will be toned down - and she would made this sympathetic sound, almost a whimper. Now I have had my kids do the same, using the same words, and depending on their mood at the time, she would react in tune. But, she only understand some stuff clearly. Mostly dealing with discipline ("Do you want to pee?" then she runs to the door if 'yes', or just look at you if 'no'), food, sleep time, walking all have key words.
@pjlueck: I also do the "Where's mommy?" and she has a similar pause and action.. but, if mommy left the house, she would go to the front door to look outside.
pjlueck
not rated yet Aug 31, 2016
(brahmix) Yes...I have read news articles following this study...and all I can do is giggle..over the superlatives of the discoveries.. : ) --- I was raised with dogs...and even strange dogs know I am a "dog person." I know exactly what you are discussing. We just accepted a dog from our kids, who now live in an apartment. It's been five months..and we have seen a slow, MUTUAL understanding of each other.
tinitus
Aug 31, 2016
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tinitus
Aug 31, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Eikka
not rated yet Sep 04, 2016
In my mind, proof positive of deep reflection on the best way to go about a task.


Or they might just be listening/smelling the air for a bit to sense where the person is.

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