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Study Says Human and Canine Sounds Are Processed Differently By Dogs

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Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest have disclosed new knowledge on the brain’s processing of auditory information in dogs. They employed a non-invasive EEG paradigm (based on human methods) to explore how dogs receive different auditory signals in their new study, which was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal. They discovered that dogs perceive human and canine sounds differently for the first time. 

Humans can typically identify the sound difference between two different, familiar species. But can dogs do this? In a newly released study, researchers from Eötvös Loránd University’s Department of Ethology attempted to identify the brain mechanisms involved in species distinction.

According to Anna Bálint, a fellow of the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group, “We played various human and dog vocalizations to lying, alert dogs while recording their brain activity using non-invasive EEG. This new EEG methodology was recently developed by Hungarian researchers based on human procedures and is completely pain-free for the subjects, contrary to many other EEG paradigms used in animal studies.”

The study was participated in by 17 family dogs that were motivated only with positive reinforcements, which included treats and praise. The researchers attached electrodes to certain points on their heads and presented them with nonverbal human and canine vocalizations of positive or neutral valence. Human vocalizations ranged from laughing to yawning and coughing (neutral), whereas dog vocalizations ranged from playful barking to panting and sniffing (neutral).

“The analysis of the recorded EEG signals showed that the dog brain processes the vocalizations of the two species differently. This is the first time this has been detected in this form in dogs. In addition, this differentiation effect occurs very soon, at 250 milliseconds, so the neural processing of human and dog sounds diverges already a quarter of a second after the onset of the sound,” explained Huba Eleőd, doctoral candidate at the Department of Ethology, ELTE.

Márta Gácsi, principal investigator of the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group, said, “Another important finding is the difference between the brain responses to positive and neutral vocalizations depending on the species. So we’ve been able to experimentally show that the dogs’ brain also responds to the emotional content of the sounds they hear.”

“The main merit of these findings is that by using this methodology, we can gain insight into new details of the neural functions of our four-legged friends and how they process the acoustic signals of the world surrounding them,” concluded Bálint.

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