14 June 2016

RESEARCH - Similarities Between Canine and Human Intelligence

(London School of Economics)
Dogs are intelligent, and they’re intelligent in ways similar to humans.

This is no surprise to anyone who has lived or worked with dogs, but science has recently confirmed the similarities.

A study by Rosalind Arden and Mark Adams, published in the journal Intelligence, has found that dogs have a “g” factor, or a tendency to excel in multiple cognitive tests if they excel in one.
Cognitive abilities in humans tend to overlap. If a human is above average at one thing, like reading comprehension, then they tend to be above average at other things, like math.

This tendency toward overlapping cognitive abilities is called a general factor of intelligence (or “g”), and although there is some evidence of “g” in non-human animals, studies have been few and far between.

There is evidence of “g” in mice, for example, and “g” was found in two out of three studies on chimpanzees.

Dogs are great subjects for this kind of research.

They enjoy interacting with people, and can be brought to testing facilities while still living at home (which makes it more feasible to conduct less intrusive, less expensive, repeated behavioural testing), and they don’t engage in the kind of confounding behaviours that make studying humans so challenging. They don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs.

The researchers anticipated, and found, that cognitive ability varied between the dogs in their study.

All 68 of the dogs were border collies living on farms in Wales, with similar breeding and training. The dogs that aced one test were more likely to ace the others, showing the same overlapping of cognitive abilities that humans exhibit.

The dogs were presented with three types of tests.

They each attempted four “detour” tests, navigating around barriers in various configurations to get to a treat; ten trials of a “point-following” test, which involved the tester pointing to one of two inverted beakers; and eight trials of a “quantity discrimination” test, where the dog had a choice between a larger or smaller treat.

Scores on the tests tended to overlap (there’s that “g” factor!) and dogs who did well in one, such as consistently going to the indicated beaker in the point-following test, also did well in other tests.
Learning about how intelligence works in non-human animals gives us important clues into how intelligence may have evolved, and also may allow us further insight into how intelligence works in humans.

Plus, it’s nice to have a study confirming what pet owners already knew – some dogs are sharp as a tack, and some really aren’t. Just like us.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

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