How dogs hear us: perception of the human voice by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris)

Ratcliffe, Victoria Frances (2016) How dogs hear us: perception of the human voice by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Domestic dogs have co-habited with humans for at least 15000 years. Close social interaction between the two species has promoted inter-specific communication and dogs now show advanced skills in responding to human signals in comparison to wolves. However, research into dogs’ abilities to interpret human signals has predominantly focussed on visual gestures, while their responses to vocal signals remain under-investigated. Exploring the perception of human speech by dogs, a phylogenetically distant species, could provide new insights into the evolution of mammal communication. Therefore, the aim of this thesis is to assess human speech perception by dogs. Speech is composed of two main communicative components: the segmental phonemic cues carrying the linguistic content and the supra-segmental cues transmitting information about the speaker such as their gender, age and emotional state. I first explore how dogs perceive supra-segmental cues, determining that they are capable of the cross-modal discrimination of human gender. I then provide a review detailing the mechanisms underlying cross-modal associations in mammal communication, before testing which of these mechanisms may enable dogs to cross-modally associate cues to human age. The results indicate that dogs learn to match some voices to humans according to their age category, while also perceiving more general cross-modal correspondences in the environment. Finally, I investigate how dogs dissociate the main communicatory components of speech during processing, providing evidence that dogs differentially process segmental and supra-segmental cues according to their communicative content. In doing so, dogs appear to express parallel hemispheric biases to those reported in humans. Additionally, the results provide the first clear demonstration that dogs attend to the combinatory structure of the phonemic content in learnt commands. Overall, this thesis extends our knowledge of dogs’ perception of human signals, indicating that they are capable of perceiving each of the main components of speech in a functionally relevant manner. Together the results suggest that dogs share some of the cognitive and social processes involved in speech perception with human listeners.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0660 Comparative psychology. Animal and human psychology
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 17 May 2016 10:16
Last Modified: 17 May 2016 10:16

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