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Friday, October 29, 2021


Doggy sick by (@sciencemug)
Human mind's sick dog reader (by @sciencemug)
dog pic by Matthew Henry is a free one (source: Unsplash); adapted by @sciencemug]

Soo, dear reader, five researchers from different German universities (aka the Wonderful Fives aka the W5s), find out that dogs can "distinguish intentional [human] actions from unintentional behaviour" (Schünemann et al., 2021)(P).

The W5s study 51 dogs of different breeds, sex (27 females and 24 males), and age (1 - 15 years) that are not trained (e.g. they're not police or rescue dogs). The researchers and the animals are on opposite sides of two 1.45 m wide × 1.15 m high barriers (each consisting of "a wooden frame holding a sheet of transparent plastic" (P)), placed one aside the other, and separated (or not) by a 15 centimeters wide gap.

The Wonderful Fives test the dogs' reaction to three different situations: the unwilling-condition (UWC), the unable-clumsy condition (UCC), and the unable-blocked condition (UBC) (P)

The UWC means the 15 cm gap is open, one scientist moves a treat towards the gap, but then quickly and intentionally pulls it away while saying, to the dog's face, “ha-ha!(P).

The UCC is like the previous one, but this time the researcher pretend to accidentally drop the treat, and says "oops!" (P).

The UBC, finally, means one of the W5s closes the gap between the plastic barriers, then a second member of the W5s tries to give the treat to the dog, but, unable to do it, drop it in front of herself (the W5s are all women), and says "oh!" (P).

So, once performed the experiment, the W5s conclude that "[dogs] behaved differently depending on whether the actions of a human experimenter were intentional or unintentional" (P). Indeed, the animals wait significantly longer before going for the treat when such treat is intentionally withheld by the researcher (unwilling-condition (UWC)) than when the reward fails to get to their mouths because the human researcher is clumsy (unable-clumsy condition (UCC)) or because there's a physical obstacle (unable-blocked condition (UBC)). Moreover, the W5s observe that, in a similar manner, "the dogs that ceased to move their tail mainly did so in the unwilling-condition [(UWC)]" (P).

The W5s say that the dogs' reactions may have different explanations, but that they clearly indicate our four legged friends have the ability to "recognize the intentionality of human action in their spontaneous behaviour" (P).

Finally, the Wonderful Fives say that future research is needed to understand "whether dogs’ distinguishing reaction really reflect a capacity to read human intentions or only some form of behaviour reading based on learned associations" (P).

Aaaanyway, dear reader, this dumb blog, in the following cartoon, shows you the true reason why dogs evolved this "human reading" ability.

Dogs read humans and play poker (by @sciencemug)
Dogs can read humans (and probably play poker) (by @sciencemug)
poker table pic by slgckgc, is
licensed under the Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license (source: flickr); the dog pic is licensed under the CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication license (source: pxhere); all pics adapted by @sciencemug]
 The paper this mini-post is about (P) 
- Schünemann, B., Keller, J., Rakoczy, H., Behne, T., and Bräuer, J. (2021). Dogs distinguish human intentional and unintentional action. Sci Rep 11, 14967.

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