Move Over, Cats: Felines Aren’t the Only Ones Who Prefer Baby Talk

New research points to dogs’ brains being sensitive to what scientists refer to as “exaggerated prosody,” which simply means baby talk. You know, that higher-pitched voice accompanied by cooing we all seem to resort to when addressing an infant or even a pet.

To discern whether or not canines prefer what’s sometimes called the cutesy voice, Hungarian researchers from the Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University, the Research Centre for Natural Sciences, and the Eötvös Loránd Research Network, employed a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI) on family doggos with some training under their belts.

baby and dog
Photo: Pixabay/JillWellington

Baby Talk & Pets

Fully alert, the puppers then listened to the recorded speech of 24 adults (12 men and 12 women) articulated for adults, babies/small children, or dogs.

The purpose of the exercise was to see how the dogs’ brains reacted to different types of speech. For example, men speaking to other adults, men addressing dogs, women interacting with infants, etc. The next step was to compare those reactions to data previously recorded among infants.

baby boy with dog
Photo: Pixabay/IamFOSNA

Friends Actress Jennifer Aniston

In an unusual twist, in an accompanying video provided by way of example, they show actress Jennifer Aniston from Friends using the voice with a baby and a dog. It makes a great point, as the scientists’ experiments showed that canine brains respond in the same positive manner to baby talk as infants.

“This study provides the first neural evidence for dogs’ heightened responsiveness for speech with exaggerated prosody (specifically to dog- and infant-directed speech) as compared to adult-directed speech, especially when spoken by women,” Dr. Anna Gábor, study co-author and postdoctoral researcher at the Neuroethology of Communication Lab informed Salon

dog and baby
Photo: Pixabay/anialaurman

Dogs’ Brains

“Previous research has shown that dogs exhibit a behavioral preference for dog-directed speech. However, it was previously unknown that their brains also react more to this speech style and that they show a preference for women’s dog- and infant-directed speech specifically.”

When queried as to whether this means that people who use a cutesy voice with their dogs should feel vindicated, Gábor said,

“Yes, our study encourages dog owners to use this special speech style when talking to dogs, as it is proven that the way we speak matters even at the brain level.”

baby boy with dog
Photo: Pixabay/Birlok

Canine Studies

As reported in previous canine studies, dogs also have a preference when it comes to male or female voices, and gals received better responses than the guys who took part in this most recent research.

“Interestingly, the sensitivity of dog brains to dog- and infant-directed speech was driven by voice pitch and its variations,” Gábor added. “This suggests that the higher and more intensely modulated voice pitch often used by women may be more effective when communicating with dogs.”

If you’re curious, the research results were published in the journal Communications Biology. You can also watch the accompanying YouTube video below.

People, Pets & Planet

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