Dogs have long been acknowledged to be man's best friend and findings of a new study reveal that canines indeed try to listen and understand humans just as a real friend should.
Study researchers Victoria Ratcliffe and David Reby, both from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex in the U.K, found evidence that just like humans, dogs use particular parts of their brain to process the components of familiar words as well as the emotional tone and intonation of human speech.
For their new study published in the journal Current Biology on Nov. 26, Ratcliffe and Reby enlisted the help of more than 250 dogs and their owners to determine how the animals respond to verbal commands by having the dogs listen to the sound of human speech through two speakers that were placed on their left and right sides.
The researchers found that when the speech had meaning to the dogs but the voice features such as intonation or gender is removed or reduced, they turn to the right side speaker, which means that they were processing the information on their brain's left hemisphere, which in humans is the side of the brain that processes the sound and syntax of words.
When the emotional features of the speech were exaggerated, on the other hand, the researchers noticed that the dogs tend to turn to the left which indicate that the right hemisphere of their brain primarily processes the information. In human, this side of the brain is involved in processing the intonation and emotional quality of speech.
"Previous studies have shown that other mammals also have hemispheric biases when processing their own species' vocalizations, but no one had ever looked at whether biases existed in domesticated animals in response to the different components of human speech," Ratcliffe said.
The researchers pointed out that their study does not suggest that dogs can fully understand the complexity of human speech albeit it does show there are similarities in the way humans and dogs process language.
The result of the study also strengthens the idea that dogs are sentient beings and that they can understand humans more than previously thought.
"Our results provide insights into mechanisms of interspecific vocal perception in a domesticated mammal and suggest that dogs may share ancestral or convergent hemispheric specializations for processing the different functional communicative components of speech with human listeners," the researchers wrote.