Tag Archives: cognition

Your dog and a 2-year old have similar social intelligence

Most dog owners will tell you they consider their beloved pets to be members of their families. Now research suggests that dogs may be even more like us than previously thought.

Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, found that dogs and 2-year-old children show similar patterns in social intelligence, much more so than human children and one of their closest relatives: chimpanzees. The findings, published in the journal Animal Behaviour, could help scientists better understand how humans evolved socially.

Researchers point for treats

Researchers hid treats and toys and communicated their location to dogs with cues such as pointing or looking in the direction of the concealed item. (Photo courtesy of Evan MacLean)

testing dogs with game based tests

Evan MacLean and his colleagues assessed more than 500 dogs using a battery of game-based tests designed to measure various types of cognition. (Photo courtesy of Evan MacLean)

MacLean and his colleagues looked at how 2-year-olds, dogs and chimpanzees performed on comparable batteries of tests designed to measure various types of cognition. While chimps performed well on tests involving their physical environment and spatial reasoning, they did not do as well when it came to tests of cooperative communication skills, such as the ability to follow a pointing finger or human gaze.

Dogs and children similarly outperformed chimps on cooperative communication tasks, and researchers observed similar patterns of variation in performance between individual dogs and between individual children.

A growing body of research in the last decade has looked at what makes human psychology special, and scientists have said that the basic social communication skills that begin to develop around 9 months are what first seem to set humans apart from other species, said MacLean, assistant professor in the School of Anthropology in the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

“There’s been a lot of research showing that you don’t really find those same social skills in chimpanzees, but you do find them in dogs, so that suggested something superficially similar between dogs and kids,” MacLean said. “The bigger, deeper question we wanted to explore is if that really is a superficial similarity or if there is a distinct kind of social intelligence that we see in both species.

“What we found is that there’s this pattern, where dogs who are good at one of these social things tend to be good at lots of the related social things, and that’s the same thing you find in kids, but you don’t find it in chimpanzees,” he said.

One explanation for the similarities between dogs and humans is that the two species may have evolved under similar pressures that favored “survival of the friendliest,” with benefits and rewards for more cooperative social behavior.

“Our working hypothesis is that dogs and humans probably evolved some of these skills as a result of similar evolutionary processes, so probably some things that happened in human evolution were very similar to processes that happened in dog domestication,” MacLean said. “So, potentially, by studying dogs and domestication we can learn something about human evolution.”

The research could even have the potential to help researchers better understand human disabilities, such as autism, that may involve deficits in social skills, MacLean said.

Looking to dogs for help in understanding human evolution is a relatively new idea, since scientists most often turn to close human relatives such as chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas for answers to evolutionary questions. Yet, it seems man’s best friend may offer an important, if limited, piece of the puzzle.

“There are different kinds of intelligence, and the kind of intelligence that we think is very important to humans is social in nature, and that’s the kind of intelligence that dogs have to an incredible extent,” MacLean said. “But there are other aspects of cognition, like the way we reason about physical problems, where dogs are totally dissimilar to us. So we would never make the argument that dogs in general are a better model for the human mind — it’s really just this special set of social skills.”

MacLean and his collaborators studied 552 dogs, including pet dogs, assistance-dogs-in-training and military explosive detection dogs, representing a variety of different breeds. The researchers assessed social cognition through game-based tests, in which they hid treats and toys and then communicated the hiding places through nonverbal cues such as pointing or looking in a certain direction. They compared the dogs’ results to data on 105 2-year-old children who previously completed a similar cognitive test battery and 106 chimpanzees assessed at wildlife sanctuaries in Africa.

Source:  University of Arizona news

 

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How Dogs Interact with Others Plays a Role in Decision-Making

Researchers at Canisius College found that the relationship between two dogs living in the same household may impact how much influence they have on each other’s behavior.

Dogs who showed little to no aggression towards their housemates were more likely to automatically follow each other than dogs who viewed their canine housemates as rivals. The study results are reported in the latest issue of Animal Cognition.

Familiar dogs

Dogs were tested in their own homes because a laboratory setting would have introduced other influences into how the dogs reacted

To conduct this study, Christy Hoffman, Ph.D., and Malini Suchak, Ph.D., assistant professors of Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, traveled to 37 multi-dog households to test the dogs in their own homes. This was an unusual approach, since most studies test dogs in the laboratory and often pair them with other dogs they don’t know. “We really wanted to look at the impact of the relationship between the dogs on their behavior, and doing that in a setting natural to the dogs, with dogs they already know, is really important,” Suchak says.

To classify how competitive household dogs were with each other, the owners were asked to fill out a survey known as the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ).

Dogs that were low in rivalry never or rarely displayed aggressive behavior toward the other dog. Dogs that were high in rivalry displayed some degree of aggression around valuable resources, suggesting they have a more competitive nature.

After their owners completed the C-BARQ, the dogs participated in a simple task. A research assistant placed two plates containing food in front of both dogs. One dog was allowed to approach the plates and eat the food from one plate before being walked out of the room. At that point, the second dog was allowed to make a choice. If the second dog followed the first dog, he arrived at an empty plate. If he didn’t follow the first dog, he went straight to the plate that still contained food.

Dogs that were low in rivalry were more likely to follow the first dog and frequently ended up at the empty plate. What surprised the researchers was that low rivalry dogs only blindly followed the demonstrator when allowed to make their choice immediately. “Low and high rivalry dogs only differed in the choices they made when there was no delay,” Hoffman says. “When they had to wait 5 seconds before making their choice, all dogs tended to go directly to the full plate.” 

Suchak adds, “This suggests that the low rivalry dogs may have been automatically following their housemates. When we forced the dogs to wait, it was as if the low rivalry dogs actually took the time to think about the situation, and they went straight for the food.”

The researchers also tested the dogs in a condition where a human removed the food from one plate before the dog made a choice. Interestingly, low rivalry dogs were more likely to follow the human demonstrator when there was no delay, a finding that paralleled what happened with dog demonstrators. Hoffman suggests this may have to do with the personality of low rivalry dogs, “Since the tendency of the low rivalry dogs to follow was seen when the demonstrator was both another dog and a human, competitiveness may be a characteristic of the individual that extends beyond their relationship with other dogs.” 

This means that if owners have a high rivalry dog “that dog may be more likely to think for himself, and less likely to blindly follow, than a dog that is less competitive,” says Hoffman. “On the whole, our findings show there is variation in the ways dogs make decisions and that how dogs interact with others plays a big role in how they respond under conditions that require quick thinking.”

Source:  Newswise

Praise or food?

Given the choice, many dogs prefer praise from their owners over food, suggests a new study published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. The study is one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore canine reward preferences.

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and lead author of the research. “Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.”

food-or-praise

Praise Pooch: Most of the dogs in the experiments preferred praise over food, or liked them both equally. Kady, a Labrador-golden retriever mix, was the top dog when it came to the strength of her preference for praise.

Dogs were at the center of the most famous experiments of classical conditioning, conducted by Ivan Pavlov in the early 1900s. Pavlov showed that if dogs are trained to associate a particular stimulus with food, the animals salivate in the mere presence of the stimulus, in anticipation of the food.

“One theory about dogs is that they are primarily Pavlovian machines: They just want food and their owners are simply the means to get it,” Berns says. “Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”

Berns heads up the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology, which is researching evolutionary questions surrounding man’s best, and oldest friend. The project was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation. In previous research, the Dog Project identified the ventral caudate region of the canine brain as a reward center. It also showed how that region of a dog’s brain responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.

chowhound

Chowhound: Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix, was the only dog in the experiments that chose food over his owner’s praise 100 percent of the time. “Ozzie was a bit of an outlier,” Berns says, “but Ozzie’s owner understands him and still loves him.”

For the current experiment, the researchers began by training the dogs to associate three different objects with different outcomes. A pink toy truck signaled a food reward; a blue toy knight signaled verbal praise from the owner; and a hairbrush signaled no reward, to serve as a control.
The dogs then were tested on the three objects while in an fMRI machine. Each dog underwent 32 trials for each of the three objects as their neural activity was recorded.

All of the dogs showed a stronger neural activation for the reward stimuli compared to the stimulus that signaled no reward, and their responses covered a broad range. Four of the dogs showed a particularly strong activation for the stimulus that signaled praise from their owners. Nine of the dogs showed similar neural activation for both the praise stimulus and the food stimulus. And two of the dogs consistently showed more activation when shown the stimulus for food.

The dogs then underwent a behavioral experiment. Each dog was familiarized with a room that contained a simple Y-shaped maze constructed from baby gates: One path of the maze led to a bowl of food and the other path to the dog’s owner. The owners sat with their backs toward their dogs. The dog was then repeatedly released into the room and allowed to choose one of the paths. If they came to the owner, the owner praised them.

“We found that the caudate response of each dog in the first experiment correlated with their choices in the second experiment,” Berns says. “Dogs are individuals and their neurological profiles fit the behavioral choices they make. Most of the dogs alternated between food and owner, but the dogs with the strongest neural response to praise chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time. It shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

The experiments lay the groundwork for asking more complicated questions about the canine experience of the world. The Berns’ lab is currently exploring the ability of dogs to process and understand human language.

“Dogs are hypersocial with humans,” Berns says, “and their integration into human ecology makes dogs a unique model for studying cross-species social bonding.”

Source:  Emory University media release

9 special abilities that show how smart dogs really are

I enjoy reading and sharing information about research involving dogs and their cognitive abilities.

Business Insider Malaysia has published a good synopsis of research in the area with references to the relevant studies.

2-dogs-make-eye-contact

The 9 special abilities are:

  1. Dogs feel empathy
  2. Dogs make eye contact
  3. With eye contact, they form a special bond with humans
  4. Dogs see humans as part of their family
  5. And they interact with us as if they were children
  6. Dogs understand gestures, like pointing
  7. Dogs brains react to human voices
  8. Some dogs can learn new words the way children do
  9. And some dogs have the ability to generalize

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Words we say to our dogs and other things

Yet more research on the human-animal bond.  This time the research was based at Barnard College’s Dog Cognition Lab.

Researchers Alexandra Horowitz and Julie Hecht asked members of the public to send them videos of playtime with their dogs.

Dog with frisbee

They received 187 videos from dog owners in 19 different countries and watched them all, looking for patterns in human behaviour and the dog’s responses.

For example, they created a list of the top 35 words owners used with their dogs:

List of words dog owners use

The research team also noticed gender differences.  Female owners touch their dogs more when at play; half of male owners didn’t touch their dogs at all.

There is a practical application for this research (although I do agree that it sounds like a fun job).  There is a growing interest in helping to train dogs as assistance dogs and understanding how humans and dog interact may help to refine training techniques.

The research has been published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Source:  Discover magazine

Inhibitory control in dogs

Inhibitory control may be an indicator of a dog’s ability to solve a problem, according to a study published February 10, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Playing with objects may help dogs learn about their environment, similar to how it helps human infants. Scientists think dogs’ inhibitory control, or the ability to inhibit or regulate attentional or emotional responses, may play a role in their individual differences in physical problem-solving task performance.

Wait for it border collie

A Border Collie during the wait-for-treat task.Credit Clever Dog Lab/Vetmeduni Vienna

The authors of this study investigated the effects of pet dogs’ experiences interacting with the physical environment and their individual differences in inhibitory control on their physical problem-solving ability. A cohort of ~40 pet Border Collie dogs were assigned to three different conditions, and tested in an intensive series of inhibitory control tasks, such as wait-for-treat, and cognitive measures, such as size constancy over a period of 18 months.

The authors found that differences in previous object-related experiences do not explain variability in performance in problem solving tasks. Depending on the cognitive task, inhibitory control had a positive or a negative effect on performance and turned out to be the best predictors of individual performance in the different tasks.

The authors think that dogs likely do not transfer knowledge about physical rules from one physical problem-solving task to another, but rather approach each task as a novel problem. In addition, individual performance in these tasks may be influenced by the subject’s level of inhibitory control. The authors suggest that studying the interplay between inhibitory control and problem-solving performance may make an important contribution to our understanding of individual and species differences in physical problem-solving performance.

Journal article may be found here.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

Mensa dogs

Dogs have measurable IQs, like people, suggests new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Edinburgh.

The research, published in the journal Intelligence, looked at whether dog intelligence is structured in a similar way as in humans. When IQ, or ‘general intelligence’, is tested in people, individuals tend to perform comparably across different types of cognitive tasks –  those who do well in one type of task, tend to do well in others.

Dog intelligence test

The researchers created a proto-type dog ‘IQ test’ which they used to assess the intelligence of 68 working border collies. These tests included: navigation, tested by timing how long it took the dogs to get food that was behind different types of barriers; assessing whether they could tell the difference between quantities of food and; their ability to follow a human pointing gesture to an object.

The researchers found that dogs that did well on one test tended be better at the other tests. Furthermore, dogs that did tests faster were likely to do them more accurately.

Dr Rosalind Arden, a Research Associate at LSE, said: “Just as people vary in their problem solving abilities, so do dogs, even within one breed. This is significant because in humans there is a small but measurable tendency for people who are brighter to be healthier and live longer.  So if, as our research suggests, dog intelligence is structured similarly to ours, studying a species that doesn’t smoke, drink, use recreational drugs and does not have large differences in education and income, may help us understand this link between intelligence and health better.

“In addition, dogs are one of the few animals that reproduce many of the key features of dementia, so understanding their cognitive abilities could be valuable in helping us to understand the causes this disorder in humans and possibly test treatments for it.”

The suite of tests was conducted in under an hour per dog, which is comparable with the time it takes a person to do an IQ-type test.  Previous research on canine cognitive abilities has taken much longer to administer.

Dr Mark Adams, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, said: “This is only a first step, but we are aiming to create a dog IQ test that is reliable, valid and can be administered quickly.  Such a test could rapidly improve our understanding of the connection between dog intelligence, health, even lifespan, and be the foundation of ‘dognitive epidemiology’

“Dogs are excellent for this kind of work because they are willing to participate and seem to enjoy taking part.”

In order to get a large sample of dogs from similar backgrounds the researchers recruited working border collies, which meant that there weren’t big differences in how they were raised.

Source:  London School of Economics and Political Science media release

Personal comment:  Dogs must be a popular research topic if even the London School of Economics is getting into the act!