Dogs Snub Mean People And Apes Like Positive Spin

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Dogs snub people who are mean to their owners.

This weekend I learned of two recent studies that demonstrate some very interesting traits in domestic dogs and great apes. Once again we see some very interesting data showing cognitive capacities that previously were unknown.

In the first study a team of Japanese researchers demonstrated that "Dogs snub people who are mean to their owners - and even reject their treats." They prefer to take treats from a neutral bystander.

The details of this research will be published later this month in the prestigious journal called Animal Behaviour. The simple design of this novel study is very interesting. Sarah Griffiths writes:

"In all three groups, the owner was accompanied by two people whom the dog did not know. In the first group, the owner sought assistance from one of the people, who actively refused to help. In the second group, the owner asked for, and received, help from one person. In both groups, the third person was neutral and was not involved in either helping or refusing to help. After watching each box-opening scene, a dog was offered food by the two unfamiliar people in the room. Canines that saw their owner being rebuffed were much more likely to choose food from a neutral observer while ignoring the person who refused to help their master. Dogs whose owners were helped and dogs whose owners did not interact with either person showed no marked preference for accepting snacks from the strangers. If the dogs were acting solely out of self-interest, there would have been no differences among the groups, with animals accepting food equally from the different people, the researchers explained."

One of the researchers, Kazuo Fujita, professor of comparative cognition at Kyoto University, notes, "We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest ... This ability is one of key factors in building a highly collaborative society and this study shows that dogs share that ability with humans."

Apes are susceptible to spin.

The other study about which I learned also is very interesting and is summarized in an essay in Scientific American Mind by Francine Russo called "Like Humans, Apes Are Susceptible to Spin." Duke University's Christopher Krupenye and Brian Hare and Yale University's Alexandra Rosati studied 23 chimpanzees and 17 bonobos and:

"offered them options for choosing food: either one or two fruits versus a constant number of peanuts. Sometimes the apes were shown one piece of fruit each time they made the selection, but half the time they were given two: positive framing. In other trials, the apes were initially presented two pieces of fruit, but half the time they got only one: negative framing. Regardless of the framing, the apes ended up with an identical quantity of fruit."

These researchers discovered that the apes "were more likely to choose fruit when they were offered the single fruit with its frequent 'bonus' than the double fruit with its frequent 'loss.'" Males were more affected than females. The researchers concluded, "the results suggest that these biases are hardwired into our biology and may have conferred some evolutionary benefit as apes foraged for food."

Please stay tuned for more on the fascinating cognitive and emotional capacities of the fascinating nonhumans with whom we share our magnificent planet. There is so much waiting to be discovered.