Thursday, February 4, 2016

You CAN teach old dogs new pronunciation!!!
Can't resist this one . . . New study by Wallis, Virányi, Müller, Serisier, Huber, and Range, University of Vienna, on how age effects learning in (pet) dogs, border collies, to be precise. What they found, according to the ScienceDaily summary,  was that with older dogs:
  • they learn more slowly and exhibit lower cognitive flexibility
  • their logical reasoning improves with age
  • their long-term memory for touchscreen stimuli (emphasis, mine) is not affected by age
Now the research was looking at memory and using touch screen technology as the media. Turns out, in part what they may have actually "discovered" is the effect of touch on old dog memory. The report of the study does not mention that possible "confounding" variable or other studies using different media. Really . . .

For the last 40 years of so one of my main interests has been the fossilized pronunciation of "old dogs", always trying to figure out how to undo seemingly intractable errors in pronunciation. That led me to gesture and then a decade ago to touch and embodiment theory. One of the most consistent "findings" of my (haptic-integrated) clinical work has been that for the fossilized, at least, gesture + touch is a remarkably effective antidote. In other words, "more mature" learners can change and remember new pronunciation (in English, for the most part) if you anchor it with . .. (ready?) TOUCH! Like the touch screen in the "old dogs" research.

That model has been extended to all learners with v1.0, v2.0, v3.0 and (soon) v4.0 of the EHIEP approach (Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation). For puppies and younger dogs there are, of course, all kinds of possibly effective ways to change pronunciation. But, at least if you are working with "older dogs" the haptic approach is . . . well . . . logical!

We don't use a touch screen yet, but we could, of course. We, instead, use hands touching each other or other strategic body locations, e.g., shoulders, bachio radiali, on stressed syllables. This new research gives hope to the fossilized and those still seriously out of touch . . .

Wallis, L., Virányi, Z., Müller, C., Serisier, S., Huber, L., and F. Range. Aging effects on discrimination learning, logical reasoning and memory in pet dogs. AGE, 2016; 38 (1).

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