Hide and go fetch AINSLEY DREW · OCT 01 2009
A new study concludes that babies and dogs do not have an advanced ability to read social cues, but that wolves do. Using a hiding-and-finding game, scientists at University of Iowa and Indiana University have concluded that babies and dogs are distracted by social cues such as adults' facial expressions and vocal interactions, and that they don't have a unique or enhanced ability to recall where an object is hidden simply based on social cues alone. Wolves, and older babies, performed better in the study, and were more capable of remembering where the object was hidden. Professor John Spencer, who was at the helm of the research, understands that this could be a difficult fact for parents and pet owners to accept.
"In our view, this is something to celebrate -- that we can bring social cognition together with basic cognitive processes. The downside, of course, is that infants, and by analogy dogs, don't have a special mind-reading ability. For some people, that's an unpleasant pill to swallow."
The study was in direct response to one from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences last year, which had found that babies were quite apt at object recall based when the experimenters interacted with them. The oppositional findings raise an interesting question when it comes to our newest arrivals' cleverness. It remains to be seen how good wolves are at Memory.