Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
These were the top neuroscience stories for the week of August 3, 2020.
Dogs Process Speech the Same Way People Do
Our canine companions interpret human speech in steps, first decoding the emotional intonation followed by the meaning of the words, a team of Hungarian researchers reported August 3 in Scientific Reports. Using fMRI, they recorded the brain activity of 12 pet dogs as they listened to a trainer. The trainer spoke a series of praise words and phrases — like the Hungarian words for “clever” or “well done” — as well as neutral words, like “such,” in both a warm, praising voice and a neutral tone. Emotional intonation activated a part of the brainstem called the tectum mesencephali, while the words’ meanings were processed in higher auditory-processing regions of the brain.
Related: Roll Over, Sit, Lie Still in the MRI: How Brain Imaging Helps Us Understand Dogs
Read more: Dogs understand praise the same way we do. Here's why that matters. (National Geographic)
Nerve-Stimulating Earbud Helps People Learn a New Language
An earbud-like device that stimulates a major nerve helps people learn a new language, researchers reported August 6 in npj Science of Learning. Thirty-six native English speakers donned the device while they listened to and identified tones in Mandarin Chinese. The in-ear device delivered an imperceptible level of electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve involved in speech. Those who received stimulation were 13% better at identifying tones than participants in the control group, and they learned faster.
Big picture: Vagus nerve stimulation has been used to treat depression, epilepsy, migraines, and gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease. However, these applications typically require surgery to implant the stimulating device under the skin.
Read more: In-ear nerve-stimulating device helps people learning a new language (New Scientist)