Sunday, June 26

German scientists find new evidence of canine intelligence | Dogs

From a sly look to a mocking snarl, dogs have long conveyed the impression that they know more about what their owners are doing than might be expected. Now researchers have found new evidence for canine cunning, revealing that dogs appear to be able to tell whether human actions are deliberate or accidental.

While theory of mind, the ability to attribute thoughts to others and recognize that it can result in certain behaviors, is often believed to be uniquely human, the study suggests that at least some elements may be common to canines.

“Our findings provide important initial evidence that dogs may have at least one aspect of theory of mind: the ability to recognize intention in action,” the authors write, noting that among other animals that display such ability are dogs. chimpanzees, African gray parrots. and horses.

Previous research has suggested that dogs can track human attention to decide when to chew on food and respond to pointing gestures. Additionally, many dogs get excited by certain signals that may suggest an upcoming action, such as when a leash is lifted. However, experts say it was unclear whether dogs really grasp the notion of human intention.

Writing in Scientific Reports magazine, scientists in Germany describe how they tried to solve the problem by asking a researcher to pass treats to a dog through a gap on a screen.

During the process, the researcher tested the dog in three conditions: in one, they tried to offer a treat but “accidentally” dropped it on their side of the screen and said “Oops!”, In another, they tried to offer a treat but The gap was blocked. In a third, the researcher offered the treat, but then suddenly withdrew it and said, “Ha ha!”

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“The idea of ​​this experiment is that in all three situations they don’t get the food for some reason,” said Dr. Juliane Bräuer, co-author of the research at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, adding that the key La The difference is whether that is due to the deal that is being withheld intentionally or, at least apparently, not.

The results, based on the analysis of the video recordings of 51 dogs, reveal that the dogs waited longer before walking around the screen to receive the prize directly in the case of the sudden withdrawal of the snack than in the other two situations. They were also more likely to stop wagging their tails and sit up or lie down.

The team writes that dogs clearly show different behavior between different conditions. “This indicates that dogs do in fact distinguish intentional actions from unintentional behavior,” they write.

However, they note that more work is needed to explore whether the dogs may have previously learned not to approach the food being removed, or whether they were responding to the researcher’s various exclamations.

Dr Suilin Lavelle, a philosophy professor at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the study, said that while dog owners may find the result unsurprising, it is far from trivial.

“Distinguishing between intentional and unintentional behavior within one’s own species brings critical survival advantages; being able to generalize this to another species, even though it co-evolved with you, further supports the claim that dogs distinguish behaviors based on their intentions rather than some other cue, ”he said.

While Lavelle said it was correct that the authors were cautious about how this ability is acquired, noting that dogs less familiar with humans may not make the same distinction, he said that demonstrating the ability in domestic animals was nonetheless , a promising start.

But, Lavelle said: “Whether this ability is sufficient to attribute theory of mind to dogs is a more controversial question, as researchers debate what level of understanding of another’s psychological states is required to merit this label.” .

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