Tag: University of Maryland

Dogs and Noise.

This is very interesting!

Belinda, who lives along Hugo Rd., as we do, sent me late last week a very interesting article on how well dogs can tune out noise.

See you yourself.

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How well do dogs hear their name in the midst of chaos?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

August 1st, 2019

Humans have the ability of selective hearing, enabling us to tune in to one person speaking, for instance, even in the middle of a noisy room. This phenomenon, dubbed the cocktail party effect, is not unique to humans, however.

Research published in the journal Animal Cognition revealed that not only can dogs recognize their names in noisy conditions, they may do so better than human infants in a similar situation.1 It’s a finding that could be particularly useful for handlers of working or service dogs, who may find themselves needing to attract their dog’s attention in a chaotic environment.

It’s been suggested that hand signals may be best for this, but a vocal command may be preferable, especially since dog’s may miss hand signals as they pay attention to what’s going on in their environment.2

Dogs pick up their names even in noisy environments

For the study, researchers from the University of Maryland used a variety of dog breeds, including pets, service dogs and search-and-rescue dogs, and their owners. The dogs were placed in a booth with their owner, where background noise was played at increasingly loud levels.

Amidst the background noise, a loudspeaker played recordings of a woman speaking the dog’s name or another dog’s similar-sounding name. The dogs listened more intently to the speaker playing their own name and were able to recognize it at varying levels of background noise, up until the noise became louder than the recording of their names.3

“This surpasses the performance of 1-year-old infants,” the researchers noted. Comparatively, adult humans can pick their names out even when background noise is louder than their name. Perhaps not surprisingly, in the study the working dogs performed better at the name recognition than pet dogs.

“I suspect one of the reasons working dogs do better is because people use their names more consistently,” study co-author Rochelle Newman, Ph.D., told National Geographic. “We often end up using nicknames so much.”4 In addition, the researchers concluded:5

“Overall, we find better performance at name recognition in dogs that were trained to do tasks for humans, like service dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and explosives detection dogs. These dogs were of several different breeds, and their tasks were widely different from one another.

This suggests that their superior performance may be due to generally more training and better attention. In summary, these results demonstrate that dogs can recognize their name even in relatively difficult levels of multitalker babble, and that dogs who work with humans are especially adept at name recognition in comparison with companion dogs.”

Dogs also cue in on other dog and human emotions

Dogs are very in tune with their environments, including the actions and emotions of those around them — both dogs and people. For instance, dogs have been found to display rapid mimicry of the other dogs’ body movements, particularly a play bow and facial expression (a relaxed, open mouth).6

When dogs mimicked each other, their play sessions lasted longer, which suggests it increased the dogs’ motivation to play and possibly strengthened the dogs’ relationship. Given that dogs mimic the emotional states of other dogs, dogs may also be able to mimic their owners’ facial expressions, especially if they’re closely bonded.

“Emotional contagion is a basic form of empathy that makes individuals able to experience others’ emotions. In human and non-human primates, emotional contagion can be linked to facial mimicry, an automatic and fast response (less than 1 second]) in which individuals involuntary mimic others’ expressions,” researchers wrote in Royal Society Open Science. “… All these findings concur in supporting the idea that a possible linkage between rapid mimicry and emotional contagion (a building-block of empathy) exists in dogs.”

The fact that dogs may mimic their owner’s facial expressions and are capable of selective hearing to pick their name out of a host of background noise adds even more understanding of why dogs and humans share such strong bonds.

Dogs associate words with objects

In dog and human communication, it remains a bit of a mystery whether dogs are responding to humans’ words, tone of voice, gestures or other cues — or all of the above.

The featured study suggests dogs do, indeed, respond to their names when spoken verbally, and past research has also shown dogs associate certain words with objects and seem able to form mental pictures that correspond to words they’ve been taught.7 Dogs also tune in to the tone of your voice,8 and may have a heightened response to praise delivered in an upbeat tone. There’s still some debate, though, over whether dogs really understand what you’re saying.

“Some of the old guard say the name is just a bit of noise that is made by the handler, and the dog is familiar with the handler’s voice, so anything the handler says is going to get their attention,” Stanley Coren, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia, told National Geographic.9

Yet in the featured study, the dogs responded even though a stranger’s voice said their names, adding more evidence that dogs may understand more than we give them credit for. And, for anyone wondering, there’s evidence that cats also know their names, much like dogs and even when spoken by someone other than their owner.

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That dogs, perhaps not all dogs, understand far more than we give them credit is no real surprise. For a creature that bonds so close to humans and has done for a long time we still don’t really know how they function. Well certainly in the head department!

But that doesn’t reduce by one iota our love for them. They are a very special animal.

Anthropocene era gaining legs

We really may be on the verge of a new geological period.

Just a couple of weeks ago, on the 16th May, I wrote an article called The Anthropocene period.  It was based on both a BBC radio programme and a conference called “The Anthropocene: A New Epoch of Geological Time?”

So imagine my surprise when I collected this week’s copy of The Economist from my mail-box last Saturday.  The cover page boldly illustrated a lead article within, as this picture shows.

US edition, May 28th

The leader is headlined, ‘Humans have changed the way the world works.  Now they have to change the way they think about it, too.’  The first two paragraphs of that leader explain,

THE Earth is a big thing; if you divided it up evenly among its 7 billion inhabitants, they would get almost 1 trillion tonnes each. To think that the workings of so vast an entity could be lastingly changed by a species that has been scampering across its surface for less than 1% of 1% of its history seems, on the face of it, absurd. But it is not. Humans have become a force of nature reshaping the planet on a geological scale—but at a far-faster-than-geological speed.

A single engineering project, the Syncrude mine in the Athabasca tar sands, involves moving 30 billion tonnes of earth—twice the amount of sediment that flows down all the rivers in the world in a year. That sediment flow itself, meanwhile, is shrinking; almost 50,000 large dams have over the past half- century cut the flow by nearly a fifth. That is one reason why the Earth’s deltas, home to hundreds of millions of people, are eroding away faster than they can be replenished.

There’s also a video on The Economist website of an interview with Dr. Erle Ellis, associate professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland.  That video link is here.

That Economist lead article concludes,

Recycling the planet

How frightened should people be about this? It would be odd not to be worried. The planet’s history contains many less stable and clement eras than the Holocene. Who is to say that human action might not tip the planet into new instability?

Some will want simply to put the clock back. But returning to the way things were is neither realistic nor morally tenable. A planet that could soon be supporting as many as 10 billion human beings has to work differently from the one that held 1 billion people, mostly peasants, 200 years ago. The challenge of the Anthropocene is to use human ingenuity to set things up so that the planet can accomplish its 21st-century task.

Increasing the planet’s resilience will probably involve a few dramatic changes and a lot of fiddling. An example of the former could be geoengineering. Today the copious carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere is left for nature to pick up, which it cannot do fast enough. Although the technologies are still nascent, the idea that humans might help remove carbon from the skies as well as put it there is a reasonable Anthropocene expectation; it wouldn’t stop climate change any time soon, but it might shorten its lease, and reduce the changes in ocean chemistry that excess carbon brings about.

More often the answer will be fiddling—finding ways to apply human muscle with the grain of nature, rather than against it, and help it in its inbuilt tendency to recycle things. Human interference in the nitrogen cycle has made far more nitrogen available to plants and animals; it has done much less to help the planet deal with all that nitrogen when they have finished with it. Instead we suffer ever more coastal “dead zones” overrun by nitrogen-fed algal blooms. Quite small things, such as smarter farming and better sewage treatment, could help a lot.

For humans to be intimately involved in many interconnected processes at a planetary scale carries huge risks. But it is possible to add to the planet’s resilience, often through simple and piecemeal actions, if they are well thought through. And one of the messages of the Anthropocene is that piecemeal actions can quickly add up to planetary change.

We are living in interesting times!

Finally, more of Dr. Ellis may be watched on the following YouTube video.