Obsequious dogs; impervious cats

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news lately, you’ve probably heard about an Hungarian study that indicates dogs understand human language in a much more sophisticated manner than previously thought.

Eniko Kubinyi/Eotvos Lorand University

Eniko Kubinyi/Eotvos Lorand University

The study exposed 13 dogs to recordings of their owners’ voices in both appreciative and neutral tones while observing their brains with a functional MRI. Some of the phrases were meaningful — szép munka! (well done!), for example — while others were meaningless. (These were taken from Donald Trump’s varying speeches on immigration policy.) It turns out dogs register not only intonation, but meaning: they recognized praise only when praise words were matched with an appreciative tone.

To which my cats say, in a neutral tone: Nagy ügy. A kutyák alázatos és méltatlan. (Big deal. Dogs are obsequious and undignified.)

Which the researchers kind of conceded. In an e-mail to the Associated Press, study lead Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, observed that less servile species probably have an ability similar to dogs’ to understand what we say, but simply aren’t interested.

To demonstrate, I recruited my cat Spot to listen to a meaningful phrase, first spoken appreciatively, then neutrally, followed by a meaningless phrase, in the same tonal sequence:

Case closed, though I have noticed that cats respond powerfully to one human-generated sound:

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15 comments

  1. I’m sure Spot-man thought you were imitating D Trump with the building the wall thoughts so he just ignored you. Good kitty!!

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  2. So great. I have two cats, one deaf the other with hearing. This post explains so well why their behavior is strangely similar… Hmmm.
    Thanks for the laughter medicine, I shared it with my family, well except for the cats, they were not interested.
    Xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so pleased that you and your family enjoyed it, and your description of your cats made me laugh. So, thank you back. 🙂

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  3. I think this study was skewed. If it is true that dogs and other animals can read human behavior and know who to trust, well then, they more than likely hate Trump! This was a wonderful post, thank you!

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    1. You’re welcome. Thanks for reading, watching and chiming in!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lol you’re funny

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    1. Glad you got a grin out of it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Still gonna go with the animal that can wash itself and take its shits autonomously. Also, purring.

    Dog owners, narcissists, God: I’m immediately suspicious of anyone who requires a pet that mimics an annoying toddler so eerily.

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    1. Although I like dogs and — generally — their people, this made me laugh. Thanks! 🙂

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    1. Thank you!

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      1. It’s a pleasure to read something “light”, yet scientifically interesting on Sunday morning, over pie and coffee 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Plus, you know: Pie and coffee for breakfast. Obviously, we belong to the same tribe.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. wonderful, Cate!
    i recall Gary Larson’s Far Side
    demonstrating cat’s
    listening skills, also 🙂

    Like

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, my friend. I had a lot of fun creating this one. I think Spot did, too — at least the second video.

      Like

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