The dog is considered to be man’s best friend: he is extremely loyal and, if trained, he can respond to orders from his master. When we call our animal by name, it often wags its tail; when we invite him to approach, accompanying a word with a wave of the hand, we see that he comes towards us. Dogs can’t speak, but they’re the only animals that can learn the language the same way humans do: their brains respond to the words they hear. Scientists, intrigued by this behavior, tried to understand what goes on in dogs’ brains when they hear sound stimuli .
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What happens when a person receives an auditory stimulus? The brain processes the intonation and emotional force of the words heard, then decodes their meaning. A team of scientists from Eotvos Lorànd University (Hungary) discovered that dogs’ brains work the same way as humans: they calculate the intonation of what they hear, then the meaning of the word. The only difference with humans is that dogs use the right hemisphere, while we use the left.
“This is an important question because dogs are a speechless species, but they respond to our words correctly,” says neuroscientist Attila Andics. It is no coincidence that some dogs are able to recognize the name of individual objects and relate it to the specific object.. It is also not a coincidence that dogs are able to associate a word with a specific action. The researchers used twelve companion dogs (six border collies, five golden retrievers and a German shepherd). They then trained them to enter and lie down in an MRI machine. The dogs listened to a trainer pronounce – with changing intonations – positive words such as “smart”, “good”, “well done” and neutral words such as “still” or “if”. Meanwhile, machines were scanning the dogs’ brain activity.
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Scientists have therefore found that the brains of dogs, like that of humans, process the sounds of words spoken outside according to a hierarchy: the tone, and therefore the emotional component, is first analyzed, then the meaning of the word. . The researchers say, “We can infer this from our interactions with dogs, but it’s quite surprising because dogs don’t speak and their communication system [barking] does not clearly distinguish the meaning of the intonation”. They continue: “And as pets have evolved alongside humans over the past 10,000 years, dogs make special use of this ancient ability to process human emotions.