My dogs Jill and Samson have never been shy about telling me what they think about what I’m saying to them – either through vocalizing or cocking an expressive eyebrow. But now researchers at Eotvos Lorand University have quantified exactly how the brains of dogs in general respond to language – and have found an interesting parallel with how humans respond to language too.
In the study, a group of dogs were trained to enter an MRI scanner — a feat in itself! — and stay still while technicians imaged their brains responding to positive words of praise, as well as neutral words. As an added twist, the team also observed the dogs’ brains while both types of words were spoken in positive and neutral tones of voice. The researchers discovered that, like humans, dogs use different parts of their brains simultaneously to respond to both content and tone. And the reward systems of the dogs in the study lit up the most when positive words were matched with a cheery voice!
“For dog owners […] the findings mean that the dogs are paying attention to meaning, and that you should, too.
[…] In terms of evolution of language, the results suggest that the capacity to process meaning and emotion in different parts of the brain and tie them together is not uniquely human. […] Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University who was not involved in the study, said he thought the experiment was well done and suggested that specialization of right and left hemispheres in processing information began to evolve well before human language. But, he said, it was still possible that dogs had independently evolved a similar brain organization.”
And while I’m glad to hear that the well trained dogs were free to leave the MRI tube at any time, I’m gladder they toughed it out, and helped facilitate this research. I will happily continue in my belief that Jill and Samson know exactly what I’m talking about — because science is now backing me up!