Believe it or not, babies as young as six months can understand dogs.
A new study, published in the latest edition of the ‘Developmental Psychology’ journal, has revealed that babies have a handle on the meaning of different dog barks, despite little or no previous exposure to dogs.
Researchers at Brigham Young University have found that infants just six months old can match the sounds of an angry snarl and a friendly yap to photos of dogs displaying threatening and welcoming body language.
Though the mix of dogs and babies sounds silly, experiments of this kind help us understand how babies learn so rapidly. Long before they master speech, babies recognise and respond to the tone of what’s going on around them.
“Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world. We chose dogs because they are highly communicative creatures both in their posture and the nature of their bark,” said the study’s lead author Prof Ross Flom.
In the experiment, the babies first saw two different pictures of the same dog, one in an aggressive posture and the other in a friendly stance. Then the researchers played — in random order – sound clips of a friendly and an aggressive dog bark.
“They only had one trial because we didn’t want them to learn it on the fly and figure it out,” Flom said.
While the recordings played, the 6-month-old babies spent most of their time staring at the appropriate picture. Older babies usually made the connection instantly with their very first glance.