Dogs And Chimps And Humans

3 Feb

Let's Hope They Never Team UpCan dogs do calculus? Are humans more like bonobos or chimps? It seems humans breed themselves animal in-groups, which then compensate for smaller numbers and overall physical frailty and lack of special skills (of course, that was before the X-Men).

Looking at a special adaptation in dogs to be sensitive to human forms of communication,” co-author Juliane Kaminski, a cognitive psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, told Discovery News. “There is multiple evidence suggesting that selection pressures during domestication have changed dogs such that they are perfectly adapted to their new niche, the human environment.”

Dogs may even be born with this inherent gift, since 6-week-old puppies with no major training possess it.

For the study, Kaminski and her colleagues compared how well chimpanzees and dogs understood human pointing. The person pointed at a visible object out of reach of the human but within reach of the animal subject. If the chimp or dog retrieved the object, he or she would be rewarded with a tasty food treat. (Chimps received fruit juice or peanuts, while dogs got dry dog food.)

The chimps bombed, ignoring the human gestures, even though they were interested and motivated to get the food rewards. The dogs aced the test.

The chimpanzees failed to comprehend the referential intention of the human in the task. They did not see the pointing as important to their goal of getting the food, so they simply ignored the people during the study.

“We know that chimpanzees have a very flexible understanding of others,” Kaminski said. “They know what others can or cannot see, when others can or cannot see them, etc.”

Chimps are therefore not clueless, but they have likely not evolved the tendency to pay attention to humans when trying to achieve goals.

Kaminski explained that even wolves do not have this skill.

“Wolves, even when raised in a human environment, are not as flexible with human communication as dogs,” she said. “Dogs can read human gestures from very early ages on.”

As for cats, prior research found that domesticated felines also pay attention to us and can understand human pointing gestures. Kaminski, however, mentioned that “the researchers had to select them out of many hundreds of cats, “ suggesting that only certain house kitties are on par with dogs when it comes to understanding people.

One theory about human uniqueness is not about thumbs, walking upright, or diets, but about social interaction and adaptability. Humans have exploited their networks for technological payoff, and then pass on that information to future generations. All other animals have to start anew each generation, even if they are highly sociable. But human sociability, in which we are very similar to our chimp cousins, comes at a huge price: we kill, and sometimes even act like cannibals. It seems homo sapiens sapiens might have eliminated homo neanderthalensis from competition, too, or at least confined our cousins into such a poor environment through population growth and consumption, Neanderthals became extinct.

On the other hand, bonobo groups make toleration erotic and are female-dominated. And, according to the two interlocutors, canines have picked up on the more positive side of human sociability to the point where they seem to think like humans.

It’s as if we made a bargain for more technology, but gave up toleration for anyone different than someone from our very narrow circle.


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