WASHINGTON — Mammals other than humans can distinguish between different speech patterns. Neuroscientists in Barcelona report that rats, like humans (newborn and adult) and Tamarin monkeys, can extract regular patterns in language from speech (prosodic) cues. The report appears in the January issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, which is published by the American Psychological Association.
This study of 16 rats per each of four conditions showed that they were able to pick up enough cues from the rhythm and intonation of human speech to tell spoken Dutch from spoken Japanese. After the researchers trained rats to press a lever when hearing a synthesized five-second sentence in Dutch or Japanese, they tested the rats’ response to the alternative language. Rats rewarded for responding to Japanese did not respond to Dutch and vice versa. They pressed the lever only for the language to which they’d been exposed. What’s more, the rats generalized the ability to differentiate to new Dutch and new Japanese sentences they had not heard before.