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Dogs process language like us and can tell when we praise them

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30 August 2016
[h=1]Dogs process language like us and can tell when we praise them[/h]

By New Scientist staff and Press Association
Can’t help talking to your dog? It turns out they really do understand some of what we are saying, processing both words and intonation to work out what we mean.
Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, and her team scanned the brains of dogs while they were listening to their trainer speaking. They found that, just like us, dogs use the left hemisphere of their brains to process words, while the intonation of speech is processed by the right hemisphere.
The team tested the dogs by saying different words with various intonations – for example, a meaningless word spoken in an encouraging voice, or a meaningful word said in a neutral tone. They found that dogs only registered praise in the reward region of their brain if both positive words and encouraging intonation were used at the same time.

“Dog brains care about both what we say and how we say it,” says Andics. “Praise can work as a reward only if both word meaning and intonation match.”

[h=2]Animal understanding[/h] Andics says this suggests the mental ability to process language evolved earlier than previously thought. What sets humans apart from other animals could be our ability to invent words.
While other species probably also have the mental ability to understand language like dogs, their lack of interest in human speech makes it difficult to test, says Andics.
Dogs have socialised with humans for thousands of years, meaning they are more attentive to what people say to them and how.


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