American scientists from Emory University conducted a study in which they tried to find out whether dogs are able to distinguish normal words from a set of sounds that the owner says.
To verify this, the experts conducted an fMRI experiment involving 12 dogs, which for six months learned to show on the subject, hearing its name.
At a basic level, the ability to master and produce a language is expressed in the ability to distinguish words from pseudowords — a set of minimal distinctive semantic units that make up “words” phonetically and morphologically similar to those in the language, but without any semantics, explained the authors of the work.
Therefore, for such studies, scientists use these pseudowords to find out how much a person or an animal perceives speech.
Everyone knows that dogs can understand simple voice commands, that is, they have the slightest ability to perceive human speech. The authors of the new work suggested that if a dog can learn voice commands, it means that it can distinguish words from pseudowords – a set of incomprehensible sounds.
If dogs have this ability, this should affect brain activity in the parietal and temporal lobes – just like in humans.
To verify this, American scientists conducted an experiment involving 12 dogs, whose owners for several months taught them to recognize different objects, pronouncing their names.
Throughout the study, scientists used magnetic resonance imaging functionally: all animals were thoroughly checked before starting the experiment.
As the scientists said, during the main final test the dog was lying in the scanner, and its owner stood in front of her, reading the word from the screen. The word could be both real, describing a well-known animal subject, and fictional, which meant nothing.
After five repetitions of each word, the owner showed the dog the named object and allowed the animal to play with it. Brain activity during the experiment was recorded using the pseudoword as a control condition.
Analysis of the brain activity of dogs during word recognition indicated an increased activity in the temporal-parietal lobe during the processing of pseudowords. This means that dogs can distinguish already known words from unknown pseudowords, the researchers explained.
Scientists said that this experiment showed completely different results for people. The real words caused the greater activity of these zones. In the case of dogs, this may indicate that they, unlike people, do not immediately understand that pseudowords do not matter, but try to process and remember them.