We’ll have them making our shopping lists next.

By Meghan Overdeep
August 05, 2020
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Good news for anyone who has ever been called crazy for talking to a dog like they would a human. According to the results of an exciting new study, dogs’ brains process speech just like human brains do.

That’s right y’all, you were onto something!

To discover whether or not dogs, like humans, could process speech hierarchically, researchers in Hungary ran a dozen pups through a fMRI machine and spoke a mixture of known praise words (such as “clever,” “well done,” “that's it”) and unknown, neutral words (“such,” “as if,” “yet”) in varying intonations.

What they found is that the dogs’ brains responded to speech just like a human brain would, by processing emotional meaning separately from word meaning. In other words, hierarchically.

In both dogs and humans, subcortical parts of the brain process intonations, while higher, cortical parts of the brain process word meanings. The researchers suggest that this is telling about the evolution of speech, which likely developed from emotionally loaded intonations.

"Although speech processing in humans is unique in many aspects, this study revealed exciting similarities between us and a speechless species. The similarity does not imply, however, that this hierarchy evolved for speech processing,” Attila Andics, principal investigator of the MTA-ELTE 'Lendület' Neuroethology of Communication Research Group explained in a news release. "Instead, the hierarchy following intonation and word meaning processing reported here and also in humans may reflect a more general, not speech-specific processing principle. Simpler, emotionally loaded cues (such as intonation) are typically analyzed at lower stages; while more complex, learnt cues (such as word meaning) are analyzed at higher stages in multiple species.”

Dogs, they’re just like us!