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Adult Dogs Just Don’t Care About Your Baby Talk, Study Finds

Friday, January 13, 2017 9:34
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While “baby talk” may be suitable for infants and toddlers, odds are you’d get funny looks from your co-workers or college professors if you tried it with them, and now a new study reveals that this same idea applies when speaking to your adult dog.

Writing in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Nicolas Mathevon from the City University of New York, and his colleagues recorded adults speaking to photos of puppies, adult dogs and older canines, then played back those recordings to gauge how the dogs themselves reacted to dog-directed speech versus normal speech.

What they found was that human speakers tended to use dog-directed speech with canines of all ages, and that the acoustic structure of this speech was largely consistent, except when it came to puppies. Sound pitch was “relatively higher” when people spoke to younger dogs, they said.

However, when they played these recordings back to the dogs, they discovered that only puppies reacted strongly to the dog-directed speech, and that older dogs showed no difference in reaction to dog-directed speech compared to normal speech. So while puppies, like babies, seem to enjoy baby talk-style speech, the evidence suggests that older dogs simply don’t care.

Only puppies reacted differently to dog-directed speech

Infant-directed speech has its benefits, as ScienceAlert explained. It can help engage babies and keep them engaged, serving to facilitate social interactions with their caregivers. It has also been shown to increase cerebral activity more than adult-directed speech, and while using this kind of speech does seem pleasing to puppies, the new study suggests it is wasted on older pets.

During their investigation, Mathevon and his colleagues recruited 30 women and had each look at photographs of 30 puppies, 30 middle-aged canines, and 30 older dogs. They then asked these women to say common dog phrases (such as “who’s a good boy” and “come here!”) while they looked at those pictures. The goal was to see if and how their voices changed while speaking to dogs of different ages and to see if their pitches rose to baby-talk levels.

They made a total of four sets of recordings: puppy-directed, adult dog-directed, old dog-directed and adult-human directed, which served as the control. The verbal content of each recording was the same, and the researchers found that all of the subjects tended to speak to all dogs in the same high-pitched tone, similar to infant-directed speech, but that their tones tended to become slightly higher-pitched when addressing puppies instead of fully-grown canines.

These recordings were then played back to 40 different dogs of various ages before or after the human-directed recordings, to see if there were any differences in the dogs’ responses to the dog-directed baby talk or the human-directed normal speech. They found that while the puppies paid more attention to the speaker when dog-directed speech was played, dogs of other ages appeared to be no more interested in the baby talk than they were the normal human speech.

In an interview with Gizmodo, Mathevon said, “I think that we are directing a human behavior at dogs. Our study suggests that we use this kind of speech pattern to engage interaction with a non-speaking listener… It underlines that we try to adapt the way we speak to our listener – or to what we think our listener is able to understand.”


The post Adult dogs just don’t care about your baby talk, study finds appeared first on Redorbit.

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