A new study by Hungarian scientists proves that dogs can understand humans. The study, published in the journal Science on Aug. 30, shows that dogs are able to distinguish vocabulary words and intonation of human speech.
This ability is made possible by the dogs’ brain regions that are actually similar to the ones we use. The study asserts that the ability is an ancient function that is used to link random sounds with meanings.
To confirm this ability, the research team had to recruit dogs and their trainers. The team played recordings of the trainers’ voices to the dogs.
The recording included combinations of vocabulary and intonation that were vocalized in the same manner when the trainers praise their dogs or spoke to them in neutral ways. The researchers report that humans use intonation to convey information, citing that praises tend to have higher and more varying pitch while neutral words tend to have neutral intonation.
The research team had to use an fMRI to analyze the dogs’ brain activities while the recording was playing. They found that dogs process vocabulary and recognize each word as distinct. They explain that the dogs used the left hemisphere of their brain, which is similar to people.
Moreover, the dogs also process intonation separately from vocabulary, the team adds. They used their auditory regions, which are found in the right hemisphere of their brain.
The dogs also had to rely on both the intonation and each word’s meaning to process what their trainers said. Hence, they confirm that dogs can really understand our intonation and words.
The research team cannot say what caused this ability exactly. However, they believe that the brain structure that produced the ability was the result of domestication. Still, they say that a rapid evolution of such brain structure is unlikely.