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Dogs Can Tell When You’re Talking to Them, and Might Prefer Female Voices

Mothers use sing-song language to talk to their infants. Their dogs respond to it, too, according to a new study.

Researchers in Hungary also found that dogs have greater brain sensitivity to the speech directed at them than to adult-directed speech, especially if the words are spoken by a woman.

In imaging scans, dogs and infants showed brain similarities during the processing of speech with “exaggerated prosody,” sometimes referred to as motherese — that simple, playful and rhythmic speech style mothers often use.

“Studying how dog brains process dog-directed speech is exciting, because it can help us understand how exaggerated prosody contributes to efficient speech processing in a nonhuman species skilled at relying on different speech cues [e.g. follow verbal commands],” said the study’s co-first author Anna Gergely, of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. She spoke in a university news release.

Infant-directed speech promotes kids’ cognitive, social and language development.

To study this in dogs, researchers measured dog brain activity via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Trained, conscious family dogs listened to dog-, infant- and adult-directed speech recorded from 12 women and 12 men in real-life interactions.

The dogs’ auditory brain regions responded more to dog- and infant-directed speech than to adult-directed speech, providing neural evidence that dog brains are tuned to the speech directed specifically at them.

This sensitivity to the speech was more pronounced when the speakers were women and it was affected by voice pitch and its variation. This suggests that the way people speak to their dogs matters.

“What makes this result particularly interesting is that in dogs, as opposed to infants, this sensitivity cannot be explained by either ancient responsiveness to conspecific signals or by intrauterine exposure to women’s voice. Remarkably, the voice tone patterns characterizing women’s dog-directed speech are not typically used in dog-dog communication – our results may thus serve evidence for a neural preference that dogs developed during their domestication,” said co-first author Anna Gábor, also from of Eötvös Loránd University.

“Dog brains’ increased sensitivity to dog-directed speech spoken by women specifically may be due to the fact that women more often speak to dogs with exaggerated prosody than men,” Gabor said in the release.

Study findings were published Aug. 18 in Communications Biology.

More information

University of California, San Diego has more on motherese.

SOURCE: Eötvös Loránd University, news release, Aug. 22, 2023

Source: HealthDay

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