MTA-ELTE ‘Lendület’ Neuroethology of Communication Research Group (2017-2022)

Comparative mammalian brain imaging: a neuroethological approach to the emergence of lexical representations

Background

Lexical items (words) are the basic building blocks of human languages, but previous research hardly ever found items with lexical features in nonhuman vocal communicative systems, even though several species are capable of learning and discriminating arbitrary sound sequences, associating vocalizations with specific meanings, or producing human-like lexical items after extensive training. Recently, we presented the first fMRI study on how dog brain processes human words, demonstrating that dogs, similarly to humans, are capable of storing lexical representations (i.e. arbitrary associations of sound sequences to meanings) independently of paralinguistic features, such as intonation. This research suggests that human linguistic capacity cannot be understood in isolation. A broad comparative perspective to what brain mechanisms various species have in common with humans for vocal social processing is essential for a better understanding of the contributions of biological and cultural evolution to the emergence of linguistic competence.

Main questions

How and under what ontogenetic conditions do lexical representations emerge in nonhuman brains? How do mammals acquire and consolidate new meanings, and how do they fit them in their pre-existing lexico-semantic network? What are the similarities and differences of mental lexicons across different mammalian species? What are the organizing principles of learnt, vocally encoded meanings, and how do they differ across conspecific and heterospecific vocalizations, and across semantic domains (Binder 2009)? Do mammals share the representations of basic biological meanings (Ehret 2010) in vocal utterances, and can this hard-wired semantics be overruled by learnt sound-to-meaning associations? Are dogs in a better position than other mammals that had not been under a similar selective pressure to fit into the human social environment, to learn the meanings of human words?

The comparative approach

We hypothesize that the shared capacity of dogs and humans to store lexical representations is based on an ancient capacity present in the last common ancestor of the two species. We therefore expect that certain lexical processing capacities, which are shared among dogs and humans, are highly similar to those in other mammals. The domestic pig is an evolutionarily distant relative of both dogs and humans, with a domestication history that is considerably shorter than that of dogs, and that followed a very different trajectory. Nevertheless, if socialized by humans, pigs are also receptive to interspecific social cues, and can follow ostensive-referential communicative cues such as human pointing or gaze direction. With the increasing recognition of pig as a model species for biomedical research, minipig breeds with much smaller size appeared. The sociocognitive capacities and their reduced size made minipigs suitable companion animals, and the number of minipigs kept as pets have increased considerably in the last several years. When kept as pets, dogs and pigs occupy a similar ecological niche of living with humans. Extending comparative neuroscientific studies on vocal social functions to pigs could therefore shed light on the biological and cultural determinants of lexical processing, revealing how similar or variable neural representations can get in species with a highly different phylogenetic history, once the environment is stabilized, and potentially highly controlled.

 

Contact

Attila Andics (group leader), attila.andics@ttk.elte.hu

 

Publications

Andics A, Faragó T (2018) Voice perception across species, In: Belin P, Fruhholz S (eds): The Oxford Handbook of Voice Perception. Oxford University Press, 2018

Andics A, Miklósi Á (2018) Neural processes of vocal social perception: Dog-human comparative fMRIstudies, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 85: 54-64.

Bunford N, Andics A, Kis A, Miklósi Á, Gácsi M (2017) Canis familiaris As a Model for Non-Invasive Comparative Neuroscience, Trends in Neurosciences, 40(7): 438-452.

Gerencsér L, Bunford N, Moesta A és Miklósi Á (2018) Development and validation of the Canine Reward Responsiveness Scale –Examining individual differences in reward responsiveness of the domestic dog, Scientific Reports, 8: 4421.

Conference communications

Andics A (2017) Comparative functional imaging: fMRI studies in dogs and humans, MNRT Congress 2017, Visegrád [invited speaker]

Farkas E, Bunford N, Gácsi M, Szabó D, Cuaya L V, Hernández-Pérez R, Andics A (2018) A comparative canine/human conspecific and non-conspecific face and non-face processing fMRI study, Neuronus 2018 IBRO Neuroscience Forum, Krakow, Poland

Farkas E, Bunford N, Gácsi M, Szabó D, Cuaya L V, Hernández-Pérez R, Andics A (2017) Fajtárs-specificitás az arcészlelésben résztvevő agyterületeken: egy humán fMRI vizsgálat, Magyar Etológiai Társaság Konferencia, Dobogókő

Gábor A, Gácsi M, Miklósi Á, Andics A (2018) Stronger attachment in dogs covaries with stronger reward responses in their brain, 6th Canine Science Forum, Budapest, Hungary

Gábor A, Gácsi M, Szabó D, Miklósi Á, Enikő K, Andics A (2017) Hierarchical processing of spoken words in dogs: an fMRI adaptation study, Magyar Etológiai Társaság Konferencia, Dobogókő

Gábor A, Gácsi M, Szabó D, Miklósi Á, Enikő K, Andics A (2018) Human-analogue lexical processing hierarchy in the dog brain, Neuronus 2018 IBRO Neuroscience Forum, Krakow, Poland

Gerencsér L, Bunford N, Moesta A, Miklósi Á (2018) Reward responsiveness of family dogs; individual variation and implications to welfare, 6th Canine Science Forum, Budapest, Hungary

Gerencsér L, Fekete Sz (2018) Associations between behavioral traits and disease prevalence of family dogs, 6th Canine Science Forum, Budapest, Hungary

Gerencsér L, Lovas M, Perez Fraga P, Gábor A, Ujváry D, Gácsi M, Andics A (2018) Differential responses of socialized minipigs to their caregivers; attachment bond or social preference? X. Dubrovnik Conference on Cognitive Science, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Kaszás N, Gábor A, Faragó T, Miklósi Á, Andics A (2018) Interspecific voice discrimination in dogs, 6th Canine Science Forum, Budapest, Hungary

Lovas M, Gerencsér L, Pérez Fraga P, Ujváry D, Andics A (2018) To be perceptive or not to be perceptive, that is the question. A comparative study of interspecific communicative interactions with pigs and dogs, X. Dubrovnik Conference on Cognitive Science, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Magyari L (2017) Development of Timing of Turn-taking from adolescence to adulthood, 6th International Conference on Auditory Cortex, Banff, Canada

Perez Fraga P, Gerencsér L, Ferdinandy B, Chateau I, Miklósi Á (2018) Problem solving strategies in family dogs (Canis familiaris) diagnosed with separation anxiety-related disorders after a short separation from the owner, in controlled laboratory setting, 6th Canine Science Forum, Budapest, Hungary

Perez Fraga P, Gerencsér L, Lovas M, Ujváry D, Andics A (2018) There is my reward! A comparative sturdy of showing behaviour towards humans in young dogs and pigs, 6th Canine Science Forum, Budapest, Hungary

Perez Fraga P, Gerencsér L, Lovas M, Ujváry D, Andics A (2018) Who seeks for human assistance when facing an unsolvable problem? A comparative study of pigs’ and dogs’ looking behavior, X. Dubrovnik Conference on Cognitive Science, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Szabó D, Czeibert K, Kettinger Á, Gácsi M, Andics A, Miklósi Á, Kubinyi E (2018) Human-analogue resting-state networks in the dog brain, 6th Canine Science Forum, Budapest, Hungary

Szabó D, Czeibert K, Kettinger Á, Gácsi M, Andics A, Miklósi Á, Kubinyi E (2018) Human-analogue resting-state networks in the dog brain, 8th IMPRS NeuroCom Summer School Leipzig, Germany