Dog brains can detect speech and show different activity patterns to familiar and unfamiliar languages, according to a new brain imaging study by researchers from the Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University (Hungary). This is the first demonstration that a non-human brain can differentiate two languages. This work has been published in NeuroImage.
“Some years ago, I moved from Mexico to Hungary to join the Neuroethology of Communication Lab at the Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University for my postdoctoral research. My dog, Kun-kun, came with me. Before, I had only talked to him in Spanish. So I was wondering whether Kun-kun noticed that people in Budapest spoke a different language, Hungarian,” says Laura V. Cuaya, first author of the study. “We know that people, even preverbal human infants, notice the difference. But maybe dogs do not bother. After all, we never draw our dogs’ attention to how a specific language sounds. We designed a brain imaging study to find this out.
“Kun-kun and 17 other dogs were trained to lay motionless in a brain scanner, where we played them speech excerpts of “The Little Prince’ in Spanish and Hungarian. All dogs had heard only one of the two languages from their owners, so this way, we could compare a highly familiar language to a completely unfamiliar one. We also played dogs scrambled versions of these excerpts, which sound completely unnatural, to test whether they detect the difference between speech and non-speech at all.”
When comparing brain responses to speech and non-speech, researchers found distinct activity patterns in dogs’ primary auditory cortex. This distinction was there independently from whether the stimuli originated from the familiar or the unfamiliar language. There was, however, no evidence that dog brains would have a neural preference for speech over non-speech.
“Dog brains, like human brains, can distinguish between speech and non-speech. But the mechanism underlying this speech detection ability may be different from speech sensitivity in humans: whereas human brains are specially tuned to speech, dog brains may simply detect the naturalness of the sound,” explains Raúl Hernández-Pérez, coauthor of the study.
In addition to speech detection, dog brains could also distinguish between Spanish and Hungarian
Read more: Phys.org