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Dogs Understand Positive Words And Tone Of Voice, Similar To How Humans Can

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Dogs respond to praise, and they not only listen to the words but also to the tone of voice and inflections, a recent study shows.

The news might not be a surprise for dog owners. However, this time, scientists have concrete data as proof. Scientists at the Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary used an imaging machine to look at the brains of 13 dogs as their trainers talked to them, NPR reports.

Results showed that the left side of the dogs’ brains lit up when they heard a combination of praising words and a positive tone, but not when random words were spoken approvingly or praising words spoken flatly.

Atila Andics, a neuroscientist at the university, says,

Dogs process both what we say and how we say it in a way which is amazingly similar to how human brains do.

Dogs are seemingly able to differentiate the meaning of words from intonation and analyze each aspect of speech. The left hemisphere of the canine brain processes meaning, while tone of voice is dealt with in the right hemisphere.

The dogs in the study — six border collies, five golden retrievers, one German shepherd and one Chinese crested — were all volunteers, trained to lie still in a functional MRI or fMRI scanner.

Andics says one of the biggest factors in the study was that the dogs could not see their owners, so the only information was the speech signal. He believes that while this reveals a lot about dogs, it also says plenty about humans.

So far, humans have been the “only species which uses words and intonation for communicating emotions, feelings, inner states.” He says, “To find that dogs have a very similar neural mechanism to tell apart meaningful words from meaningless sound sequences is, I think, really amazing.”

Brian Hare, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences in North Carolina, says that scientists have long believed that evolution made the human brain’s left hemisphere dominant in processing means of communication, leading to unique language abilities. The fact that dogs also have a left hemisphere response in processing words with meaning is a surprise, he says.

Hare adds that this is an important discovery as it involves non-invasive research on animals that are awake, as they generally have to be restrained for tests.

The study was published in the journal Science.

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