Science has confirmed what we suspected all along: Fido is being a jerk when he doesn’t respond to your commands since he might actually know what you’re saying after all.
According to a new study published in Science, fMRI brain scans show that a dog’s “reward centres” light up only when both the intonation and the words match. These are the same reward centres that are activated with food, sex, or being petted.
So when you’re telling Fido he’s stupid in a cooing tone, he’s hip to your tricks. You’re not being sly – in fact, he’s probably processing information in the same way you do.
“During speech processing, there is a well-known distribution of labor in the human brain. It is mainly the left hemisphere’s job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere’s job to process intonation,” explains lead researcher Attila Andics in a release.
“But the human brain not only separately analyzes what we say and how we say it, but also integrates the two types of information, to arrive at a unified meaning. Our findings suggest that dogs can also do all that, and they use very similar brain mechanisms.”
Andics and his team trained 13 dogs to lay still in the fMRI scanner and monitored their brain activity as they listened to their trainer’s speech. As it turns out, dogs use the left hemispheres of their brains to process meaningful words, regardless of intonation, and a bias towards using the left side of their brains was present in the scans.
And while this study is important in learning how dogs process speech, it also draws interesting conclusions about human speech itself, says Andics.
“Our research sheds new light on the emergence of words during language evolution. What makes words uniquely human is not a special neural capacity, but our invention of using them.”