It’s not all in your anthropocentric imagination; your dog really does understand what you’re saying.
A study published in Science this week has shown that dogs can distinguish between words and the tenor of speech, and through regions in the brain that are similar to those that humans use to communicate with each other. But surely this doesn’t come as a shock to those who spend their time making conversation with their beloved pooches, like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
The study presents important insights into the neural networks needed to understand both speech and intonation.
Humans use both words and tone to communicate, but it isn’t well understood what works with dogs. If we say “who’s a good boy?”, do they process the words or just the upbeat tone of voice?
Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary sought to answer this question by recruiting participants of the four-legged variety, who were willing to lie still in an MRI machine, which was used to measure brain activity.
They were then exposed to recordings of their trainer speaking in different combinations of words and intonation, such as the word “super” said in both a cheerful, high-pitched voice as well as with a more neutral tone.
The results showed that regardless of intonation, dogs recognised different words – moreover, like humans, they processed words in the left hemisphere of the brain and intonation in the right hemisphere.
The researchers said this shows that dogs can not only separate what we say from how we say it, but can combine the two to better understand.
But we already knew our furry friends were capable of this, didn’t we?