We’re all guilty of stopping a stranger on the street to accost their dog with some version of the following: Who’s a puppy? Who’s a puppyyyyy? Who’s a sweet baby angel puuuuppy? IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou gaaaaaahhhh.
You might feel like you’ve lost a modicum of self-respect when you finally make eye contact with the owner, but don’t sweat it.
It’s natural for people to speak slower and in a higher register when talking to human babies — an approach which research has shown helps infants absorb information more easily. A new study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests there’s a similar dynamic at play when we use cutesy dog voices.
The experiment went down like this: Volunteers looked at pictures of puppies and adult dogs and recorded themselves saying things like, “who’s a good boy?” as if they were speaking directly to the dog in the photo. As a control, they were also asked to read the lines in a normal tone of voice. Next, the researchers played the voice recordings to the dogs — a group which consisted of both shelter pups and volunteered pets — and studied their responses.
After running acoustical analysis, researchers found that most participants used a coo-ing voice when talking to dogs (duh). Their tone got extra high-pitched when speaking to a puppy rather than an older dog.
And, it turns out, puppies loved it. While adult dogs responded similarly to both baby talk and normal voices, puppies went nuts for the humans’ high-pitched goochy-goo-ness.
Researchers don’t know exactly why this is the case, but they posit that talking to puppies in a slow, high-pitch “may be efficient to promote word learning, an ability well demonstrated in dogs.” So why do we do it in the first place? Can people not tell the difference between a baby and a puppy? Well, kind of. The study authors argue that our brains put infants and dogs in the same category of “nonverbal companions,” who may not know what we’re saying, but we love them anyway.
Does this also explain why some people put their dogs in strollers? Further research is surely needed.