Research: Dogs have a mental representation of the word “ball”

Research: Dogs have a mental representation of the word “ball”

When a dog searches for his ball in the bushes, does he have a mental image of that ball in his head? This is obvious, but in science such an internal picture in a dog's brain is not entirely clear. In some experiments, dogs appear to perform poorly at perceiving that the hidden object is actually still there.

Hungarian and Norwegian researchers have now presented a powerful new argument in favor of dogs' mental imagination. In a sophisticated setting, eighteen normal dogs were tested who could clearly understand a number of “communication words” from their owner. This includes commands such as “grab.” BalFrom “Parking Day”. stock'.

In the experiment, dogs with electrical sensors on their heads encountered recordings of their owner giving such a “grab command,” after which the dogs were shown the object in question, or another object (with which the dogs were familiar). . When the presented object did not match the heard command, the vast majority (fourteen out of eighteen) of the dogs showed classic neurological spikes in electrical brain activity.

surprised

For the first time, there is neurological evidence that hearing a word in a dog can actually trigger a mental representation of the object associated with it, and the researchers happily wrote in their article that Current biologyPosted on Friday. Otherwise, those dogs wouldn't be surprised. Researchers would not be surprised if this mental imagination is present in more mammals.

Biologist Juliane Breuer (Max Planck Institute, Jena) has been studying the inner lives of dogs for years and has written about this, among other things. Standard work “What dogs know” (2021). She is happy with the new study, which she did not participate in. “It seems to me that it was well executed and the result is good because it contributes to the belief that dogs can really understand something.”

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Brewer wasn't surprised by the result. Even if it's not because they're themselves lately Similar (but non-neurological) examination. an act. The dogs had to follow the trail of the scent, and sometimes they eventually found something different than what they expected based on the scent. “Then they showed the same behavioral startle reaction that these researchers have now found in this brain spike.”

Nor do you expect that only dogs have this imagination, Power says. “I expect the same result in the scanner with great apes, dolphins and parrots as we have now with dogs.” And don't forget that this is the point words Brewer adds that it is not about the real language. Then there the peoplewords. “Smells are of course more important and more noticeable in the dog world. But even with smell, they have a clear internal image of the thing they are smelling.

walking long distances

Brewer also explains why this type of research is important. “This is really a very special communication with the animal, in this new experiment. Most communication between animals is two-way, between sender and receiver. This involves three-dimensional communication: between sender and receiver via an external object. In this species, you also have the famous alarm calls of meerkats “, which is different for snakes or birds of prey. This means with the transmitter, receiver and object. But it is a very rare phenomenon.”

In this communication game between sender and receiver, animals show special flexibility as receivers, Brewer says. Here again: dogs understand a lot. “But as announcers, they are less flexible. Take my dog: even when he knows he shouldn't bark, he can barely suppress it.

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The fact that the Hungarian-Norwegian research concerns “normal” dogs is also important for scientific research into canine cognition. Because this field is still dominated by the wonder dog Rico, who in 2004 was shown to know two hundred words for different things, and was then able to learn new words very quickly – the latter number was more than a thousand. It turned out to be an exceptional talent, as most dogs only know a few words and do not learn new ones easily.

Endless training

Bräuer has been working on it for a few years Big project “Search for Rico” “Thanks to a lot of effort, we have now found twelve Rico dogs all over the world,” she says. However, many dog ​​owners are willing to train their dogs endlessly to learn new words. But Rico's talent is very rare. My own dog is not included either.



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