The age old debate has finally been settled. Dog lovers can rejoice, knowing that dogs understand human words and tone of voice.
Dog owners probably don’t find this very surprising. But they finally have the arguments to convince nay-sayers. Scientists tested their theory that dogs understand human words and intonation by scanning the brain of 13 dogs.
Atilla Andics, a neuroscientists working at the Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary said, “Dogs process both what we say and how we say it in a way which is amazingly similar to how human brains do.”
The pooches would hear their masters speak words of approval in a praising voice. As expected, the neural pathways linked to rewards lit up on screen. But then, surprisingly enough, when the trainers spoke out random words in a similar tone, the dogs did not respond.
It was generally believed that dogs react to a person’s intonation, or the way in which they say certain words, not the meaning of the words themselves. But this test would seem to indicate that dogs understand human words, or rather the meaning of these words.
Andics explained that the scans showed the dogs were able to interpret the meaning of the words, and the intonation separately. The left hemisphere of the brain worked with the meaning, and the right one processed the tone of voice.
One of the obvious problems with using brain scanning equipment is that the subject has to sit very still, so they can work properly. The dogs had to learn to sit like they never sat before.
According to Andics, “The difficult aspect of the training was to convince dogs that ‘motionless’ means really motionless. They can’t move more than 3 millimeters in any direction, otherwise we have to throw out all of the data”
Dogs Perfectly Happy To Participate In The Study
The 13 dogs who participated in this study learned to do exactly that. They were not restrained in any way. They could move away from the scanner if they wanted to. But the dogs understood that sitting completely motionless made their trainers very happy. And feeling that their masters are pleased made them happy as well.
Andics believes that there was one key element that lead to these results. Because they were inside of the machine, the dogs couldn’t actually see their owners. So all they had at their disposal were words and intonation. Andics claims that because they had no visual ques the dogs had to rely entirely on the meaning of the word overlapping with the way in which it was spoken.
The researcher is quite enthusiastic about the results. Not just because we know now that dogs understand human words, but also because it gives a new perspective on our own species.
We tend to believe that humans are the only species capable of complex speech. For long time, people believed that we are unique when it comes to communicating abstract ideas like feelings, and inner states. Scientists speculated that that was the evolutionary shift that enabled us to become what we are today.
But the fact that dogs can separate meaningful words from gibberish means that we are not alone in this ability. Scientists were also surprised to discover that dogs use the same hemisphere as us to process words. This means we are more alike than we had previously thought.
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