Something out of the February 21, 2004 issue of The Economist
magazine. What makes a dog man's best friend? (Apologies to both women and cats on this one!) Well it seems that it's because dogs are superbly sensitive to social cues from people. And Brian Hare, of Harvard University, has now proven it.
In a very clever experiment, he hid a small piece of food under one of two cups and then challenged dogs and chimpanzees - "often regarded as second only to people in their level of innate intelligence" - to pick the correct cup.
First came the baseline test
where the experimenter gave no cue whatsoever. Results: both dogs and chimps scored right about 50% of the time. The second time around, though, the experimenter signaled in some way where the food was, by pointing at it, tapping it, or even just glanced at it (the signal test
). Lo and behold, in this test, the chimps did slightly better than chance, but the dogs chose correctly EVERY TIME!!!
Was it because the dogs descended from wolves? No. The wolves scored no better than the chimps - on either test. Was it because the dogs learned these cues from being around people? No. When Dr. Hare ran the tests with dogs that had been reared in kennels with minimal human contact, these dogs scored as well as the other dogs. So what became clear was that the ability for dogs to interpret human social cues had become, over time, part of their actual genetic makeup.
All of this raises some interesting questions about humans interact with humans. More specifically, how good a job do you do in interpreting the cues that other people give you? How do you know? If some times you do an excellent job of interpreting the cues, might you do a not-so excellent job of it at other times? Whose cues aren't you paying attention to as much as you'd like to believe you are? What cues do you tend to typically misinterpret and how? And what cues might you be unknowingly sending to others that you'd rather not?
You might not be sure, but chances are pretty good that you're dog knows!
Labels: Just for Fun