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Science Mag: Dogs understand vocabulary, intonation

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Study dogs/Eniko Kubinyi

From ScienceDaily:

Researchers used fMRI to analyze the dogs’ brain activity as the animals listened to each combination. Their results reveal that, regardless of intonation, dogs process vocabulary, recognizing each word as distinct, and further, that they do so in a way similar to humans, using the left hemisphere of the brain.

Of course. Otherwise, how would they distinguish between Bad dog, bad! And Good dog, good!

Also like humans, the researchers found that dogs process intonation separately from vocabulary, in auditory regions in the right hemisphere of the brain. Lastly, and also like humans, the team found that the dogs relied on both word meaning and intonation when processing the reward value of utterances.

Thought experiment: If we whispered Bad dog, bad vs. shouted Bad dog, bad!, would we not expect the latter statement to be more attended to?

Thus, dogs seem to understand both human words and intonation. The authors note that it is possible that selective forces during domestication could have supported the emergence of the brain structure underlying this capability in dogs, but, such rapid evolution of speech-related hemispheric asymmetries is unlikely.

Unlikely, yet it happened? Why could not living with much more intelligent creatures, such as humans, have enabled a more rapid evolution than random drift would suggest? Lastly,

Humans, they say, are only unique in their ability to invent words. Paper. (paywall) – A. Andics, A. Gábor, M. Gácsi, T. Faragó, D. Szabó, Á. Miklósi. Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs. Science, 2016; DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf3777 More.

The last statement is so stupid that one is powerless to deal with it. Increasingly, naturalists take refuge in such techniques, for avoiding realities around intelligence in nature.

It’s an interesting study but one is not clear how much has been learned.

Note: If a dog had a syrinx like a parrot, he could ask to be taken for a walk in human speech. But that would not elevate his intelligence such that he is talking with his walker about the ball game last night.

See also: Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds

and

Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness

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