A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex assessed the way in which man’s most trusted companion responds to speech. According to the results of the study, dogs are finely in tune with human emotions and process speech as humans do.
It’s not only about the attention that dogs have for their masters. Study authors are convinced that dogs don’t automatically respond to orders by recognizing repetitive, familiar commands. They comprehend what masters are saying, researchers believe, by processing what a human says and how he says it.
The same study showed that the typical response of looking to the right when hearing familiar voices or commands is caused by processing the information in a specific region of their brains. Dogs, as humans, process familiar sounds in the brain’s left hemisphere, whereas unusual noises or sounds are processed by the left hemisphere.
It’s Victoria Ratcliffe’s conviction that dogs not only pay attention to who the one giving the command is, but also to what that person is saying. Ratcliffe is an associate tutor with the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex. She explains that the team of scientists still cannot determine to what extent dogs understand the information. However, it was clear that the four-legged companions reacted to not only verbal- but also speaker-related information. All components related to speech are processed in particular brain regions, she added.
Similarly to the human brain, information coming from one ear is processed in the opposite hemisphere of the brain. It is only when one of the two hemispheres is particularly specialized in processing certain information that sounds are perceived as stemming from the opposite ear.
When dogs were presented with familiar commands, issued in a normal tone, the left hemisphere took over processing and dogs turned to the right. In contrast, unrecognized commands or those issued in a different tone were no longer processed by the left hemisphere and dogs turned to the left.
Dr. David Reby is convinced that such results are remarkable because they prove that speech components are processed in a similar manner as human brains do.
“[…] the dog’s brain is divided between the two hemispheres in a way that is actually very similar to the way it is separated in the human brain.”