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Do Dogs of All Ages Respond Equally to Dog-Directed Speech?

Summary: Puppies respond best to when people speak slowly and with a higher tone, a new study reports.

Source: City of New York University.

People tend to talk to dogs as though they are human babies. A new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that people speak more slowly and with a higher tone to dogs of all ages–both adults and puppies–and that puppies respond most readily to this dog-directed speech.

When talking to dogs, human adults use pet-directed speech similar to infant-directed speech (high pitch, slow tempo), which is known to engage infant attention and promote language learning. What about our dog companions? An international research team, led by Dr. Nicolas Mathevon of Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), and the University of Lyon/Saint-Etienne, has demonstrated that puppies are highly reactive to dog-directed speech but that older dogs do not react differentially to dog-directed speech compared to normal speech. Yet, human speakers employ dog-directed speech with dogs of all ages, suggesting that this register of speech is used to engage interaction with a non-speaking, rather than just a juvenile, listener.

Not only might people consciously or unconsciously wish to make themselves better understood through dog-directed speech, they may also be promoting word learning in dogs when doing so. It remains an open question whether puppies react innately to dog-directed speech and exactly why adult dogs showed a lack of preferential reactivity (at least in the absence of other communication cues) to dog-directed speech.

two dogs

People seem to consider dogs non-verbal companions and speak to them as they would human infants. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

For now, people seem to consider dogs non-verbal companions and speak to them as they would human infants. We use similar strategies in other situations where we believe our listener may not fully understand us, such as when speaking to elderly people or linguistic foreigners.

About this psychology research article

Source: Shante Booker – City of New York University
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?” by Tobey Ben-Aderet, Mario Gallego-Abenza, David Reby, and Nicolas Mathevon in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Published online January 11 2017 doi:10.1098/rspb.2016.2429

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
City of New York University “Do Dogs of All Ages Respond Equally to Dog-Directed Speech?.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 11 January 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/dog-speech-understanding-5921/>.
City of New York University (2017, January 11). Do Dogs of All Ages Respond Equally to Dog-Directed Speech?. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved January 11, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/dog-speech-understanding-5921/
City of New York University “Do Dogs of All Ages Respond Equally to Dog-Directed Speech?.” http://neurosciencenews.com/dog-speech-understanding-5921/ (accessed January 11, 2017).

Abstract

Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?

Pet-directed speech is strikingly similar to infant-directed speech, a peculiar speaking pattern with higher pitch and slower tempo known to engage infants’ attention and promote language learning. Here, we report the first investigation of potential factors modulating the use of dog-directed speech, as well as its immediate impact on dogs’ behaviour. We recorded adult participants speaking in front of pictures of puppies, adult and old dogs, and analysed the quality of their speech. We then performed playback experiments to assess dogs’ reaction to dog-directed speech compared with normal speech. We found that human speakers used dog-directed speech with dogs of all ages and that the acoustic structure of dog-directed speech was mostly independent of dog age, except for sound pitch which was relatively higher when communicating with puppies. Playback demonstrated that, in the absence of other non-auditory cues, puppies were highly reactive to dog-directed speech, and that the pitch was a key factor modulating their behaviour, suggesting that this specific speech register has a functional value in young dogs. Conversely, older dogs did not react differentially to dog-directed speech compared with normal speech. The fact that speakers continue to use dog-directed with older dogs therefore suggests that this speech pattern may mainly be a spontaneous attempt to facilitate interactions with non-verbal listeners.

“Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?” by Tobey Ben-Aderet, Mario Gallego-Abenza, David Reby, and Nicolas Mathevon in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Published online January 11 2017 doi:10.1098/rspb.2016.2429

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