Que? Dogs’ brains can tell Spanish from Hungarian, study finds

The study was led by Laura V Cuaya at Eotvos
Lorand University in Budapest, who moved to the city from Mexico a few years
ago, bringing her dog Kun-kun with her.

“I wondered whether Kun-kun noticed that
people in Budapest spoke a different language, Hungarian,” she said.

“(In the research) we found for the first
time that a non-human brain can distinguish (between) languages.”

In their lives with humans, dogs pick up on
the auditory patterns of the language they are exposed to, said Raul
Hernandez-Perez, co-author of the study.

During the experiment, Kun-kun and others were
trained to lie down motionless in a brain scanner for several minutes.

All the dogs had heard only one of the two
languages — either Hungarian or Spanish — from their owners before, allowing
researchers to compare how their brain reacted to a highly familiar language
and to a completely unfamiliar one.

The dogs listened to excerpts from the story
in Spanish and Hungarian and also scrambled versions of these excerpts to test
if they could detect speech and non-speech.

When comparing brain responses, researchers
found distinct activity patterns in dogs’ primary auditory cortex of the brain,
indicating that they can distinguish between speech and non-speech.

In their secondary auditory cortex which
analyses complex sounds, dogs’ brains produced different activity patterns when
they heard a familiar language and an unfamiliar language. The older the dogs
were, the better their brain distinguished between the two languages.

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