If you’re speaking to me, it’s not just what you say but how you say it that matters. A new study published this week in Science finds that dogs also pick up on these important, yet separate details. And there’s more. Not only does this study add to our knowledge of how dogs attend to human language, it also raises important questions about the difference between processing human speech and understanding it.
For the last few years, Attila Andics and his colleagues in Hungary (Family Dog Project Facebook, Twitter) are one of a handful of research groups training companion dogs to voluntarily go into an fMRI. Once in, the dogs are presented with different stimuli as their brains go under the giant figurative microscope.
In the recent study, dogs heard both familiar praise words and neutral words presented with a praising or neutral tone. The researchers found that, like us, dog brains separate out the vocabulary bits from the intonation, processing familiar words in the left hemisphere and intonation in auditory regions of the right, a finding that corroborates and extends earlier behavioral studies. The conclusion, according to Science, is that “dogs seem to understand both human words and intonation.”
Read more: Scientific American