Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How we say it matters to dogs

The NY Times reports:
“Both what we say and how we say it matters to dogs,” said Attila Andics, a research fellow at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest. ...

As with people’s brains, parts of dogs’ left hemisphere react to meaning and parts of the right hemisphere to intonation — the emotional content of a sound. And, perhaps most interesting to dog owners, only a word of praise said in a positive tone really made the reward system of a dog’s brain light up.
I do not think this will surprise any dog owners.
In terms of evolution of language, the results suggest that the capacity to process meaning and emotion in different parts of the brain and tie them together is not uniquely human. This ability had already evolved in non-primates long before humans began to talk.
This does not follow. Dogs only evolved in the last 15k years or so, long after humans learned to talk. Maybe dogs learned to understand speech from humans.

It is sometimes claimed that autistic kids do not understand the emotional content of speech, but this has been repeatedly shown to be false. The current SciAm cites 3 recent studies:
Yet the voice, too, can provide emotional cues, and several recent studies indicate that when listening to voices, people with autism can actually recognize feelings and other traits of humanness as well as — or even better than — neurotypical people do.
The problems typically occur when the neurotypical speaker wants to convey feelings that are contrary to what she is verbally saying. Then the autistic person is unsure about the intent, and usually chooses the verbal meaning. A dog might choose the non-verbal meaning.

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