Nav: Home

3-year-olds get the point

April 06, 2009

Dogs and small children who share similar social environments appear to understand human gestures in comparable ways, according to Gabriella Lakatos from Eötvös University in Budapest, Hungary, and her team. Looking at how dogs and young children respond to adult pointing actions, Lakatos shows that 3-year-olds rely on the direction of the index finger to locate a hidden object, whereas 2-year-olds and dogs respond instead to the protruding body part, even if the index finger is pointing in the opposite direction. These findings (1) were just published online in Springer's journal Animal Cognition.

It is widely accepted that in the course of domestication, dogs became predisposed to read human communication signals, including pointing, head turning and gazing. Furthermore, the social environment of human infants is often shared by pet dogs in the family, and therefore there are likely to be similarities in the social stimulation of both young children and dogs.

The authors carried out two studies in which they compared the performance of adult dogs and 2- and 3-year-old children - the period of human development during which children and dogs respond in similar ways. They investigated whether dogs and human children are able to generalize from familiar pointing gestures to unfamiliar ones and whether they understand the unfamiliar pointing actions as directional signals.

A total of fifteen dogs and thirteen 2-year-old and eleven 3-year-old children took part in the two studies. In the first study, the researchers used a combination of finger and elbow pointing gestures to help dogs locate hidden food and children a favorite toy. They found that dogs choose a direction for the reward on the basis of a body part that protrudes from the experimenter's silhouette, even when the index finger is pointing in a different direction. Like dogs, 2-year-olds did not understand the significance of the pointing index finger when it did not protrude from the silhouette. (In these cases, the elbow protruded in the opposite direction.) However, 3-year-olds responded successfully to all gestures.

In the second study, the researchers used unfamiliar pointing gestures with a combination of finger, leg and knee pointing. All children and the dogs understood the leg-pointing gestures but only 3-year-olds successfully responded to pointing with the knee.

The authors conclude that "protruding body parts provide the main cue for deducing directionality for 2-year-old children and dogs. The similar performance of these groups can be explained by parallels in their evolutionary history and their socialization in a human environment."
-end-
Reference
1. Lakatos G et al (2009). A comparative approach to dogs' (Canis familiaris) and human infants' comprehension of various forms of pointing gestures. Animal Cognition DOI 10.1007/s10071-009-0221-4

The full-text article is available to journalists as a pdf.

Springer

Related Dogs Articles:

Urban dogs are more fearful than their cousins from the country
Inadequate socialisation, inactivity and an urban living environment are associated with social fearfulness in dogs.
Veterinarians: Dogs, too, can experience hearing loss
Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise.
Dogs and wolves are both good at cooperating
A team of researchers have found that dogs and wolves are equally good at cooperating with partners to obtain a reward.
Hidden danger from pet dogs in Africa
Researchers at the Universities of Abuja and Nigeria, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, have detected a potentially human-infective microbe in pet dogs in Nigeria.
How humans have shaped dogs' brains
Dog brain structure varies across breeds and is correlated with specific behaviors, according to new research published in JNeurosci.
Parasitic worms infect dogs, humans
A human infective nematode found in remote northern areas of Australia has been identified in canine carriers for the first time.
Better prognosticating for dogs with mammary tumors
For dogs with mammary tumors, deciding a course of treatment can depend on a variety of factors, some of which may seem to contradict one another.
Dogs mirror owner's stress
The levels of stress in dogs and their owners follow each other, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden.
Sleepovers reduce stress in shelter dogs
Foster care provides valuable information about dog behavior that can help homeless dogs living in shelters find forever homes.
Dogs know when they don't know
In a new study, researchers have shown that dogs possess some 'metacognitive' abilities -- specifically, they are aware of when they do not have enough information to solve a problem and will actively seek more information.
More Dogs News and Dogs Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.