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Dogs were able to distinguish between the meaning and intonation of words

Andick et al / Science, 2016

The dog’s brain processes human speech according to the same pattern as the human brain, according to a study conducted by neurophysiologists at the University of Budapest. In dogs, as in humans, interhemispheric asymmetry is observed, allowing to perceive the meanings of words separately from the intonation with which they were uttered. The work is published in the journal Science , briefly about it tells the portal Motherboard.

For processing speech information in humans, the left hemisphere of the brain responds, since it is peculiar to react to rapidly changing audio signals. According to a number of theories, this area of ​​the brain perceives precisely the semantic components of the language, and not the acoustic components. For the treatment of, for example, intonational features of speech, the right hemisphere corresponds to the person. At the same time, reactions to the speech of the brain of higher animals remain poorly studied, since the left hemisphere is primarily associated with the processing of sounds familiar to the natural habitat – as a rule, human speech is not included in their number. However, as shown by a new study, the brain of dogs is able to perceive people’s speech, and in the process of perception, both its hemispheres participate. Comparison of the mechanisms of speech perception in humans and animals can be made clear,

Scientists have studied the method of magnetic resonance tomography changes in brain activity of 13 domestic dogs, previously accustomed to stay in the scanner. In the course of the experiment, each dog was put down a voice recording of a tamer who consistently pronounced a series of short sentences. Some phrases consisted of words praising the dog, others – from rambling unions. In this case, both sets of phrases trainer repeated twice – with approving intonation and neutral.The scientists expected that the dog’s brain would respond to the voice’s intonation, but they wanted to check whether the dog could distinguish between the laudatory words uttered in a neutral tone.

It turned out that the left hemisphere of experimental animals is activated when they hear meaningful speech, and regardless of the intonation of the utterance. Such a reaction was not in the utterance of incoherent alliances. At the same time, in the right auditory region of the brain, an increase in activity was expected in response to intonation, regardless of the meaning of the words. Neuroscientists also found that the pleasure center in the canine brain was activated most strongly in those cases when the trainer uttered approving words with a laudatory intonation.

In the opinion of the authors of the work, their study indicates a similarity of the mechanisms of speech perception in humans and dogs. Both of them have a lateralization, that is, redistribution of mental functions between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. “It seems that lateralization … is not a unique ability of a person that arose as a result of language development. It is, rather, an older function that could appear to associate arbitrary sound sequences with certain values, “says one researcher.

Other experiments with dogs have shown that they can be prone to emotional contamination. So, dogs that spend a lot of time together tend to copy each other’s movements more often than unfamiliar animals. In this case, if the dogs actively imitate each other, then they will devote more time to the joint game. According to the researchers, this allows us to assume the presence of empathy in dogs.

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