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Research indicates dogs have some ability to read minds (11/7/2007)

Tags:
animal intelligence, social skills, body language

Many dogs can be trained to skillfully perform tasks not natural to canines, such as in this dog agility competition.
Many dogs can be trained to skillfully perform tasks not natural to canines, such as in this dog agility competition.
Dog owners who think their beloved pooch can read their mind may be right.

Canterbury University psychology student Michelle Maginnity has just completed a masters research project looking at whether the domestic dog has a theory of mind - that is, whether they can think about the thoughts and feelings of self and others.

She said after carrying out a range of experiments which tested the cognitive skills of dogs, she believed they were not only sensitive to human cues, but also had the ability to think about what their human companions may be thinking.

"So, in a way, dogs may be able to read minds," she said.

Michelle's research involved testing the social-cognitive skills of 16 dogs, some pure bred and others of mixed breed, in a food-finding task. In four different experiments the dogs had to decide where the food was hidden by following cues from people who either did or didn't know where the food was.

Michelle said a range of scenarios were tested, for example, one person watched food being hidden while the other covered their eyes, and in each test the dogs showed a preference for the person who they believed knew where the food was.

"What this showed was that the dogs were able to take the perspective of the humans involved in the experiment, and attribute states of knowledge to those people," Michelle said.

"This means dogs may possess a functional theory of mind."

Michelle said research on the social cognition skills of animals had largely focused on chimpanzees and other primates, with relatively inconclusive results. However, she believed dogs were a more appropriate species to look at.

"Domestic dogs have evolved from wolves, which are social pack animals. It would therefore be advantageous to them to be able to think about what other pack members are thinking, especially when taking part in co-operative hunting. In that situation it also helps if they're able to think about what their prey may be thinking," she said.

"Another important factor is that dogs have evolved alongside humans and are likely to have become attuned to human behaviour and social cues to help in their interactions with people."

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the University of Canterbury

Comments:

1. Louis

11/7/2007 4:58:43 AM MST

Amazing. I always suspected dogs are more intuitive than we would like to admit.


2. Drjekel

11/7/2007 9:01:31 AM MST

This woman should FAIL
"Michelle's research involved testing the social-cognitive skills of 16 dogs, some pure bred and others of mixed breed, in a food-finding task. In four different experiments the dogs had to decide where the food was hidden by following cues from people who either did or didn't know where the food was.

Michelle said a range of scenarios were tested, for example, one person watched food being hidden while the other covered their eyes, and in each test the dogs showed a preference for the person who they believed knew where the food was. "
the dogs could have just smelled who had the food


3. Derek

11/7/2007 9:55:33 AM MST

Oh dear dog! It's not bad enough that people believe in stupid things like mind reading but researchers who know better have to say something stupid like "So, in a way, dogs may be able to read minds,". Understanding what a human may think about in certain situations is not reading minds. The headline will give 90% of the population the impression that their stupid beliefs in mental telepathy have been confirmed when nothing of the sort has happened.

I assume Ms. Maginnity is just trying to get attention with a statement like that.


4. Manda

11/7/2007 10:16:40 AM MST

Drjekel - the people WATCHED the food being hidden. It doesn't say that the dog had access to the people hiding the food, so smelling it would make no difference, since the people they were responding to were watching, not handling.


5. Ed

11/7/2007 10:18:20 AM MST

Your missing the point.

TOm, Dick and Harry are in a back yard, thats large with lots of hiding spaces.

Tom goes in the house. Dick goes and hides a doggie treat. Tom comes back out.

Tom and Harry try to direct Dog X in finding the treat. Dogs prefered to follow Harry who saw where the food was hidden.

Consider the implications. I really doubt it was mind reading, perhaps it was more just minor physical ques and body language the animals responded to. But it does match up with that every dog owner knows. How often does your dog bolt when you think about taking him to the vet? (as a example)


6. Dan

11/7/2007 10:20:52 AM MST

Drjekel,
Having problems with basic reading comprehension are we? The people didn’t actually have the food – some did and some did not SEE where it was hidden. If it was about scent then the dogs wouldn’t have shown a preference one way or the other to the human participants.

Did you do your masters research in FAIL?


7. Phoenix

11/7/2007 10:21:54 AM MST

Drjekel -
Having problems with basic reading comprehension are we? The people didn’t actually have the food – some did and some did not SEE where it was hidden. If it was about scent then the dogs wouldn’t have shown a preference one way or the other to the human participants.

Did you do your masters research in FAIL?


8. V b

11/7/2007 10:35:51 AM MST

Derek's right!
I cannot believe her advisor agreed to this a research project.
There is such a thing called 'Body Language'!! When two species with no common means of communication interact, they WATCH the other and learn things from very small behavioural hints and actions.. It may not be perceivable, but if that is the only way of communicating, dogs would have this skill down to an art.
Social pack animals, as she says hunt together, feed together, live together. Obviously they need to co-ordinate and UNDERSTAND a fellow animal. Again, they watch and learn and figure out things.
I'm just amused that with the results of this extremely small-scale and close grouped experiment, why would she conclude about telepathy instead of a more scientific explanation!


9. Scott

11/7/2007 10:36:44 AM MST

Good thing those dogs could read minds to find the hidden food because thier noses would never work for that.

Didn't Pavlov already answer this?


10. geeze

11/7/2007 10:49:44 AM MST

Listen idiot, the food was not hidden on the people. It was hidden in a room, and only one of the two people knew where it was hidden, and neither of them had been in contact with the food. The dog showed a preference for the person who knew where the food was, indicating that the dog somehow recognized that that person knew where the food was. I would say that the dog probably read body cues rather than the mind of the person, since dogs can't read minds.


11. Mims

11/7/2007 11:24:27 AM MST

The researcher was my tutor in one of my first year psychology papers!!

Also it seems pretty obvious that dogs would have some degree of TOM...


12. Duh

11/7/2007 11:36:38 AM MST

To the retard who said the dogs could smell the food on people: the people WATCHED the food be hidden by SOMEONE ELSE. There couldn't possibly be a difference between the two sets of people's smells.

Again I say, RETARD


13. Me

11/7/2007 1:03:52 PM MST

Actually mind reading was a bad choice of a title. What they really are trying to say is that dogs have a notion of thought, and that they can read queues to make guesses at what a thought might be...

No one but the person who titled the article, including the researchers, are talking about clairvoyance.

The research and the results are interesting.


14. WD

11/7/2007 2:02:46 PM MST

Like this is news to any dog owner. They pick up on body language, tone of voice, expression, attitude. Our dog watches us intently, and I can control him with a glance. What next, earth-shattering research that puppies are playful?


15. Nathan

11/7/2007 2:10:03 PM MST

Exactly, "Me." The article was titled poorly, and it was apparently misleading for the writer to even figuratively mention "mind-reading." Readers of some familiarity with psychological principles know that "theory of mind" (which the writer did, however, define) and "telepathy" are wildly different things, although theory of mind has been implicated as a crucial component of "empathy," which is an essential part of non-verbal communication. No, a dog can't read your mind any more than your sister can, but in a lot of instances he may certainly have a better sense of how you're feeling -- a notion well exemplified when he curls up and puts his head on your lap when you're feeling down. Man's best friend.


16. MonkeyBoy

11/7/2007 5:07:07 PM MST

Its been known for a while that a major difference between dogs and their wild relatives wolves is that dogs get into people's minds while wolves don't.

This is one reason why raising wolves or wolf-hybrids as pets doesn't work.


17. Eric

11/7/2007 10:03:58 PM MST

Puh-leez. The ability to "think about what a person might be thinking" is not "mind-reading." Duh. I hate headline writers almost as much as I hate lawyers.


18. Ulmo Patiostoné

11/7/2007 11:00:48 PM MST

My dog knew, right from the start, that this debate was likely to turn acrimonious. He's actually a seeing-eye dog, but he does other little things for me too - like typing this post for instance. On the internet, nobody knows it's him...


19. Andy

11/8/2007 1:46:49 AM MST

I love how many of you want to criticize the article for a position it didn't even take. Bad title? Yes. Assumption of dog telepathy? Entirely NONEXISTENT. (Dogs' sense of smell? Irrelevant.) Please learn to read before you criticize. We as human beings have theory of mind. The results and the conclusions herein about dogs sharing this trait are valid and interesting. Shaddup already about telepathy you illiterate tools.


20. BlueBerry Pick'n

11/8/2007 8:31:01 AM MST

She's a brave researcher.

having suffered through years of neuro & psychology lectures, lemme tell you...

there is nothing as irritating as listening to professors pontificate about the horrors of presuming *animals* have emotions or the ability to anticipate another animal's emotions & behaviour.

it was like banging your head against a wall to listen to them drivel on about how "presuming *ANIMALS* have EMOTIONS & THOUGHTS is ANTHROPOMORPHIZING!" they said it like it was a scientific sin. Sure, presuming is a sin... but research that would investigate animal emotion or cognition was similarly lumped into that heinous malfeasance.

yeah. okay. I'm supposed to believe that primates & humans aren't animals. So much for Evolution, eh?

Because sharing BIOLOGY with an animal... doesn't mean we share anything cognitive with them...

doesn't mean that animals don't have social dynamics.

"Ever read any Elizabeth Marshall Thomas? how about some Koko? or primate research?," would drive my professors out of their minds.


21. Mr. Ed

11/9/2007 11:22:47 AM MST

Yeah. Very good research, very, very bad title.

Dogs don't read minds, but they are really, really good at reading body language. Humans are not. So, once again, the completely sensory-impaired humans jump to conclusions.

To humans, body language means getting hit in the face. Anything less is not understood.

Though I can understand the misunderstanding. I have had dogs all my life, and if I didn't know better, I'd think it was mind-reading, too.

What is the difference between humans and animals? You tell me, I don't know.


22. Nick

11/11/2007 10:36:24 AM MST

The fact is the only reality that humans can interact with is what we can see, smell, touch, hear and taste. But the fact is that is less then one millionth of reality. We have the electromagnetic spectrum which has told us so. There is no doubt in my mind that dogs have a so called "Sixth sense." I don't think dogs can read minds per say, however they do have the ability to sense the energy of others around them. This is why canine cops are so good at their job, and why dogs don't need to communicate verbally to express ideas and to execute the pack mentality. This also explains why dogs are so awkward around most children. This is because most children have a very nervous or over-excited energy and in turn this freaks the dog out.

No, my dog doesn't know when im thinking about eating, or what my next move is. But the do however know when to stay out of my way and when they are welcome to play, they can sense energy, and this is truly fascinating.

DogsCats


23. Ann

11/12/2007 6:33:29 AM MST

A very similar study was published recently in the magazine "Scientific America". Scientists studied crows and determined that crows could figure out which beings (both crows and humans) had obtained knowledge.

I think the confusion of many of the posters originates from two sources; 1. The title is misleading (typical of media stories). 2. Many people assume that we already know that many animals know that other beings have knowledge. Therefore they assume the story is about something more than that, like psychic ability. The real story isn't that some (maybe all) animals DO know that other beings store knowledge, it's the scientific methodology to prove it.


24. Blue Buffalo

12/1/2010 11:01:23 PM MST

Definitely agree with what you stated. Your explanation was certainly the easiest to understand. I tell you, I usually get irked when folks discuss issues that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail right on the head and explained out everything without complication. Maybe, people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks


25. world ventures

12/10/2010 1:40:49 AM MST

I'm quite shocked to know that dogs can read minds. And I was wondering how my little puppy can understand me so well.


26. How Dog Training Helps

12/28/2010 4:18:42 AM MST

In the face of that evidence, the often repeated ‘home truth’ that we humans don’t use half the capacity of our enormous brain is questionable. Neuroscience is such a hot research area these days – I’m hoping I’ll be around long enough to learn more about this 'extra' unused capacity!


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