Dogs’ brains may process speech similar to humans’

attentive dog

Dogs’ brains may favor different brain hemispheres for processing different aspects of human speech, much as people’s brains do.

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People and the dogs they talk to may show the same biases in brain-hemisphere use when interpreting aspects of human speech, say researchers at the University of Sussex in England.

Scientists monitored which way 25 dogs turned when hearing the same sounds broadcast on each side of the head. Dogs tended to turn toward the ear favoring the left hemisphere of the brain when listening to a flat, robotic voice conveying the verbal content of familiar commands without obvious emotion. When listening to emotion-packed but meaningless speechlike sounds, dogs favored the right brain hemisphere.

Dogs likewise favored the right hemisphere for an unfamiliar language, which wouldn’t convey verbal content to them but offers information about the speaker such as gender,  the researchers report November 26 in Current Biology.

A dog played a a clip of foreign, neutral speech turns to the left, indicating the sound is being interpreted by the right hemisphere of the brain. This suggests that, like people, dogs process vocal cues such as gender in their right brain hemispheres. V.F. Ratcliffe et al/Current Biology 2014

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