Babies understand dogs

July 20, 2009
dog

New research shows babies have a handle on the meaning of different dog barks - despite little or no previous exposure to dogs.

Infants just 6 months old can match the sounds of an angry snarl and a friendly yap to photos of displaying threatening and welcoming .

The new findings come on the heels of a study from the same Brigham Young University lab showing that infants can detect mood swings in Beethoven's music.

Though the mix of dogs and sounds silly, experiments of this kind help us understand how babies learn so rapidly. Long before they master speech, babies recognize and respond to the tone of what's going on around them.

"Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world," said BYU psychology professor Ross Flom, lead author of the study.

Flom and two BYU students report their latest "amazing baby" findings in the journal Developmental Psychology.

"We chose dogs because they are highly communicative creatures both in their posture and the nature of their bark," Flom said.

In the experiment, the babies first saw two different pictures of the same dog, one in an aggressive posture and the other in a friendly stance. Then the researchers played - in random order - sound clips of a friendly and an aggressive dog bark.

"They only had one trial because we didn't want them to learn it on the fly and figure it out," Flom said.

While the recordings played, the 6-month-old babies spent most of their time staring at the appropriate picture. Older babies usually made the connection instantly with their very first glance.

Study co-authors Dan Hyde and Heather Whipple Stephenson conducted the experiments as undergrads and don't recall any babies getting upset.

"Many of them enjoyed it," said Hyde. "Others just looked."

"Infants are pretty cooperative subjects," Stephenson added.

The mentored research experience helped Hyde and Stephenson secure spots at prestigious grad schools. Hyde is currently at Harvard working toward a Ph.D. in . Fellow co-author Heather Whipple Stephenson recently completed a master's degree in educational psychology at the University of Minnesota.

"With this study, my favorite part was watching a somewhat zany idea grow into a legitimate research project," Stephenson said.

Source: Brigham Young University (news : web)

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7 comments

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Simonsez
5 / 5 (3) Jul 20, 2009
This contradicts the study last week that posited dog vocalizations have no specific meanings attributed them, and are instead intended to represent a conflict of desires/instincts in the dog. I find this one to be a little more credible.
Birger
5 / 5 (3) Jul 20, 2009
Remember that domestic dogs have co-evolved with humans since the ice age. Dogs who could make themselves understood by humans would be favoured. Presumably dogs have adapted to the way humans interpret sound signals.
mattytheory
5 / 5 (2) Jul 21, 2009
Or the humans adapted to the dogs. ;)

Nah, I'm thinking combination.
ea1th
not rated yet Jul 21, 2009
Suggested space saving: Surely the ridiculous "have a handle on the meaning of" could have been "can interpret".
smiffy
not rated yet Jul 21, 2009
Remember that domestic dogs have co-evolved with humans since the ice age. Dogs who could make themselves understood by humans would be favoured. Presumably dogs have adapted to the way humans interpret sound signals.
Particularly so since, at least as far as I know, the predecessor of domestic dogs - the timber wolf - doesn't bark much, preferring to howl instead.

"Wolves bark when nervous or when alerting other wolves of danger but do so very discreetly and will not generally bark loudly or repeatedly as dogs do"

http://en.wikiped...isations
swifty
not rated yet Jul 22, 2009
all animal speech is similar on a basic level. we're all born understanding the emotionally expressive vocalizations of other animals (although not all species, but check out the link for evidence that even the ones that seem different aren't so different).

"...when words are disregarded, human speech patterns follow the rules of animal communication..."

http://findarticl...3777499/

so the results of this experiment aren't surprising.

@simonsez: i believe the apparent conflict with the study you mention (tho i haven't read it) might be a matter of the word "meaning" - perhaps this other study was saying that dog sounds don't have meaning in the sense of words, like human speech, that they aren't associated with a specific thought or image in the dog's mind, rather than the kind of emotional "meaning" behind dog sounds in this experiment.
RayCherry
1 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2009
Babies in development of basic comunication skills are exposed to artificial miscommunication. Using dogs instead of human faces and voices sidesteps the issue that these babies are having their learning skills analysed at the possible (plausible) expense of their learning experience.

I imagine that each and every experience of such young people is remembered and used for their education. Mixing up 'reality' and feeding them confused signals cannot be of benefit to them, and the analysts cannot be one hundred percent sure of the long term effects. I would agree that life is full of such conflicts and contradictions, and that children adjust to cope with all that life throws at them, but that does not justify an artificial increase in variations at such an early developmental stage.

The first time one of these children is bitten by a dog, will it have been becouse they missed a warning?

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