New Study Finds Dogs Don’t Take Bad Advice
The study, newly published in Developmental Science, had 40 dogs of varying breeds attempt to solve puzzle boxes in order to retrieve a treat. The puzzle boxes were very basic in design and resolution, and the dogs were shown exactly what to do in order to solve the puzzle and get the treat, with one exception–researchers added an extra, unnecessary step to the puzzle solution to see if the dogs would realize that they didn’t actually need to follow the extra step in order to be rewarded.
Turns out, they did realize that, and eventually didn’t even bother with the extra step. Each dog took a few attempts at puzzle solution, and through trial and error, figured out exactly what worked to get the treat, while ignoring what didn’t…including the redundant step researchers purposely built in.
Related: Six Bizarre Ways Our Dogs Talk To Us
The study also looked at whether or not wild dogs (in this case, Australian dingoes) would do the same, and indeed, they too seemed to know when to completely bypass a redundant step, even though they had no way of knowing it was redundant.
Or did they?
It would seem that the study would then beg the question of whether dogs were better learners than humans were? Or, do these findings just imply that the human social order, being more complex and multi-tiered has evolved into one where redundant, seemingly irrelevant steps are necessary? Lead researchers Angie Johnston and Paul Holden would make the case for the latter.
A study from 2005 where a group of children were given similar instructions–to follow steps (including a redundant, unnecessary one) to retrieve a treat–showed that unlike the dogs in this study, children would regularly copy all steps, or, ‘over-imitate’ as humans are prone to do. Johnston maintains that while the extra step may be irrelevant, children would consistently take it, which is an essential function of learning how to do other things that may seem like irrelevant or redundant steps they’d follow–things like brushing teeth or washing hands after the restroom, for example.
If children are able to start imitating at a basic level, regardless of initial and apparent need to weed out good or bad direction, the stepping stones of a complex human culture begins to form. Dogs, while obviously social creatures with their own cultures within dog hierarchie , don’t have the need for such cultural building blocks and so, they’ve in essence become better at weeding out the, “blah, blah, blah,” of day-to-day interaction. (Must be nice!)
And all this means you’re not crazy…You know how you’d swear you tell your dog to do something and he looks at you like you were nuts because he you both know he doesn’t need to do whatever it is you are telling him to do?
Yeah, that’s exactly what he’s thinking! (Let’s face it, he’s right!)
[Source: Yale News]
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