Part of the reason we love dogs is their innate ability and willingness to always listen, to always show us (and claim us) attention while trusting us. But how much can this trust they place in us be impaired if we behave deceitfully? Researchers have recently shown that dogs tend to ignore people who are lying or appear to be suggesting something misleadingly, which may suggest that, unlike human babies and some non-human primates, they might recognize when a person mentally or behaves in a questionable manner.
” We thought dogs would behave like kids under 5 and monkeys, but now we’re speculating that maybe dogs can understand when someone is ‘misleading’ ”, Explains Ludwig Huber of the University of Vienna, Austria.
Huber explains that according to her, it’s a bit like dogs being able to say to each other, “ This person has the same knowledge as me, but they give me the wrong information “. It is therefore possible that they regard this as intentional deception, and therefore as a lie. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Primates and young children: overconfidence in their “communicator”
For their study, Huber and his colleagues trained 260 dogs of different purebreds to find food hidden in one of two covered bowls. The dogs learned to follow the suggestion of a person they had never met, called the “communicator,” who touched the bowl full of food, looked at the dog and said ” Look, this is very good! “. According to Huber, the dogs seemed to trust this new person when they reliably followed the signal.
Once that trust was established, the team had the dogs see another person move the food from the first bowl to the second bowl. Communicators were either present in the room and also witnessing the change, or briefly absent and therefore seemingly unaware of the change in food. In both cases, the communicators later recommended the first bowl (which was therefore empty).
In previous versions of this experiment with children under 5, Japanese macaques or chimpanzees, the participants reacted in a particular way. If a communicator had been away during the food change, it seemed like they couldn’t know where the treat actually was. So kids, chimpanzees or macaques usually ignored a communicator who gave honest (but misleading) advice on where the food was, Huber explains.
However, if the communicator was in the room and witnessed the exchange, but still recommended the first bowl (now empty), young children and non-human primates were actually much more likely to follow the communicator’s knowingly misleading suggestion. approach the empty container. This can be explained by the fact that children and non-human primates trusted the communicator more than their own eyes, Huber explains.
Dogs know how to avoid being fooled in about 60% of cases
In the new experiment with dogs, however, the animals did not trust “lying” (or rather “deceitful”) communicators as much, much to the researchers’ surprise. Half of the dogs in the study would have followed the communicator’s misleading advice if the latter had not witnessed the food exchange. But about two-thirds of the dogs ignored a communicator who had witnessed the food exchange and still recommended the now empty bowl. These dogs simply walked over to the bowl full of food. ” They no longer trusted the communicator Says Huber.
” This study reminds us that dogs observe us closely, pick up on our social cues, and constantly learn from us, even outside of formal training settings. Says Monique Udell of Oregon State University, who was not involved in the study.
According to Udell, the fact that half of the dogs trusted the communicator who seemed to have made an honest mistake could say a lot about how dogs process social information. ” There is genetic and behavioral evidence for the hypersociality of dogs, which means that many dogs find it difficult to ignore social cues, even when another solution might be more beneficial. », She explains. ” This is a really vivid example of how often this can happen. “.