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Dogs are Smarter Than You Think! Brain Scans Show Pups Understand What You're Saying

Aug 31, 2016 04:10 AM EDT
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Next time you're trying to trick your pup, think twice. It turns out dogs can understand people better than we thought. A new study looked closer at the way canines process speech and discovered that dogs get both words and intonation, and that they're more similar to humans than initially believed.

"During speech processing, there is a well-known distribution of labor in the human brain," Attila Andics, lead author and ethologist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, explained in a report from Motherboard. "It is mainly the left hemisphere's job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere's job to process intonation."

She continues, "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."

Researchers were able to determine the findings by using an fMRI brain scanner to study the brain activity and stimuli of 13 different dogs. While inside the fMRI, a trainer spoke praise and neutral words in varying intonations as the scientists looked for activity in the brain regions that could suggest the differentiation of praise and neutral words, and praise and neutral intonations.

The team found that -- like humans -- meaningful words were processed in the dogs' left hemisphere. When it comes to identifying tone and pitch, it would be the right hemisphere. The dogs reward center only gets triggered when praise words were spoken in a praising intonation, suggesting that dogs have a better grasp of speech than most people think.

"It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match," Andics said. "So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant."

The study was published in Science. It is the first ever to look at how the brains of dogs process speech, according to Time.

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