Monday, September 22, 2014

Dogs Can Understand Our Intentions

 

If my dog isn't sleeping, the odds are most likely that he's watching me—watching me compose blog posts, watching me write computer code, watching me watch movies, watching me watch him. My dog is both a scientist and documentarian of me. With that kind of dedication, it becomes a persistent question of what is he watching for? What does he understand of what I do? Does he just remember patterns of my behavior, or does he perceive what my intentions are? In other words, what can he know of why I do the things that I do? Patterns or understanding. 

According to a study out last week in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, dogs are perhaps more capable of understanding human intentions than they're typically given credit for. In experiments funded by the European Research Council and led by University of Portsmouth researcher Sarah Marshall-Pescini, dogs were found to have the capability for this sort of understanding of at least a human infant or chimp.

"The question of whether non-human species can perceive other’s actions as goal-directed has been more controversial," Marshall-Pescini et al write, "however there is mounting evidence that at least some primates species do. Recently domestic dogs have been shown to be particularly sensitive to human communicative cues and more so in cooperative and intentional contexts."

Showing that human infants and-or dogs can recognize human intentions is challenging for obvious reasons, e.g. neither can very well explain themselves. The set-up used in the current study is the same as a classic set-up used to test infant awareness.

"[In a 1998 study, AL] Woodward found that when 5-month old infants repeatedly observe a person interacting with an object, they will then look longer when the actor suddenly switches to interacting with a different item in the same location than when they see the actor interacting with the usual object placed in a new location," the current paper explains. "The ‘surprise’ shown by infants in this paradigm has lead authors to conclude that infants understand the actor’s action as being goal-directed to a particular target."

For the rest of the story: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/dogs-can-understand-our-intentions

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