Dogs Think Like Babies, While Wolves Think for Themselves

By Allison Bond | September 7, 2009 7:00 am

baby & dogIt may not come as much of a surprise to dog-owners, but it seems that dogs and babies share similar logical abilities, as shown by a study published in Science.

Experimenters started out with a classic logic experiment, which goes like this: researchers hide a toy in location “A” multiple times while looking at a 10-month-old baby and talking to him (“Look, I have this nice ball!”). When asked to find the toy, the baby always goes to location “A.” The experimenter then hides the toy at location “B,” again while interacting with the baby. But this time, when asked to find the toy, the baby continues to search for it at location “A.” The findings hold, even when a team changes experimenters midtest. Researchers believe that infants make this error because they believe the adults have taught them something fundamental about the world (i.e., “Your toy will always be at location ‘A'”) [ScienceNow].

When researchers performed the same test with dogs, the canines also consistently searched for the toy at location “A,” even after they saw the experimenters hide it somewhere else. On the other hand, wolves that were raised by hand and strongly socialized … easily followed the evidence of their eyes and located the object in Box B [LiveScience]. Researchers hypothesize that dogs erroneously sought the toy in location “A” because they were following the orders given by the experimenter.

The differences between the dogs’ and wolves’ behavior might stem from the domestication of man’s best friend by humans starting around 10,000 years ago. Says study coauthor Adam Miklosi: “I wouldn’t say one species is smarter…. If you assume an animal has to survive without human presence, then wolves are smarter. But if you are thinking that dogs have to survive in a human environment where it’s very important to follow the communications of humans, then in this aspect, dogs are smarter” [LiveScience].

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Image: flickr / freeparking

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain
  • YouRang

    I wonder how absolute this result was. I.E. did 100% of the babies look in A? 90%? Surely much more than 50%.
    Also when the babies looked in A, did they continue to search in A or did they very quickly move to B? And for that fraction (0%, 10%…100%) that did switch to B, how long did it take? And what fraction of those that didn’t switch, started to cry?
    And how did they manage to make babies, dogs, and wolves sit still while they hid the ball? It seems to me that the details of the dynamics of how they did that in the three cases might be sufficiently different to render the results meaningless.

  • Joseph Smidt

    This is interesting since dogs descend from from common ancestors with wolves after which man domesticated them. The quote is probably correct, somehow domestication must lead to all this since that is the major different since descending from a common ancestor not too long ago.

    Very interesting.

  • asa walker

    i like playing these games with my dogs but i use food. if the dogs are watching me move their treats when they want them they will always, first time out, point at the new hiding place

  • AJ

    Um, dogs didn’t descend from a common ancestor. They descended *from* wolves, the Gray Wolf specifically.

  • Velimir Ikalovic

    Dogs, just like domestic cats, don’t grow up mentaly until they end up on the street. When there is no owners to feed them and care about them, they become like their wild relatives.

  • Lethal_Teapot

    The title is misleading. Though the babies and the dogs exhibited the same behaviour, the article suggests they were doing it for different reasons; babies thought they had learned ‘something fundamental’ about the world, while the dogs were following orders. So the babies and dogs were not really ‘thinking alike’…

  • Joe Maxwell

    If you hide a treat that the dog cam smell, forget what they saw, they follow their nose.

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    Perhaps wolves have learned to be less trusting of humans, on an instinctive level. We are certainly not worthy of their trust in most cases, even though we owe them quite a lot as a species . Kind of sad, really.

  • Zachary

    Lisette, you can’t learn instincts. Plus, use Occam’s razor. “That cruel human has hidden the ball from me again, I must be wary of him and his deceptive ways.” or the wolf tracks the ball to the location, giving primacy to the evidence of its senses. In this case it’s dogs that have acquired a new trait comparative to wolves. That being of following the lead of a human, an extremely useful skill ofr living with us.

  • Gadfly

    There was a documentary last year some time that tested this exact type of activity comparing dogs to wolves. Interstingly there were different results leading to different conclusions. That study indicated dogs could follow human body language and that wolves couldn’t. The subject animal was shown a reward (meat) then without them being able to see where, it was place under one of two bowls to either side of a human volunteer. The bowls were revealed and the human pointed to the one with the meat. The dogs invariably ran straight for the one with the reward indicating they were following the human lead. The wolves ran randomly to one or the other and then relied on their noses to tell them which bowl to go for. The conclusion was that the dogs could read human body language while the wolves could not. So, surprising that the researchers here got the wolves to respond to find the ball based on body language. Interesting discrepancy.

  • Jaen

    Are independent, ethical thinkers among humans more “wolflike” then? There are any number of sociological experiments relating to torture or even simple decision making, which demonstrate that the majority of humans will relinquish their own consciences and common sense to an authority figure or to the group, without even considering what the agenda of said “authority” or group might be.

    Maybe before democracy can crawl out of the lap of oligarchy, humans will have to reliquish their dependence on social affiliations and relearn “thinking with the nose”.

  • Peter Walker

    I suspect that if you were to perform this test on socialized wolf pups, they’d behave like dogs and babies.

    We didn’t breed a totally new trait into dogs, most likely, but rather bred them such that juvenile cognition survived into adulthood – neoteny.

  • katie

    That’s assuming the dogs were looking for the toy. Maybe they were thinking the point was to go to location A. Wolves wouldn’t indulge us, but domestic dogs do. And yes, toys are different than food.

  • Lois

    I dont think AJ knows what “COMMON ANCESTOR” means.

  • Zooey

    I wonder what Romulus and Remus, as babies, would have done since they were raised by wolves 😉

  • Zac

    Corretion Romulus and Remus were raised by a she wolf nothing ever said otherwise or history books are wrong.


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