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Wolves understand cause and effect, dogs do not

Staff Writer |
A rattle will only make noise if you shake it. Animals like the wolf also understand such connections and are better at this than their domesticated descendants.

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Researchers say that wolves have a better causal understanding than dogs and that they follow human-given communicative cues equally well.

The study provides insight that the process of domestication can also affect an animal's causal understanding.

A good example of the connection between cause and effect, is that an object which contains food produces noise when shaken.

The study of an international research team at the Wolf Science Center of the Vetmeduni Vienna shows how animals deal with these rules of the physical world.

Based on where dogs and wolves searched for food after receiving some hints about its location, they showed that our domesticated, four-legged companions cannot make the connection between cause and effect, but wolves can.

These results indicate that domestication has changed the dogs' cognitive abilities.

The researchers Michelle Lampe from the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, Juliane Bräuer from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, Juliane Kaminski from the University of Portsmouth in England and Zsófia Virányi from the Vetmeduni Vienna in Austria investigated the reasoning abilities of 14 dogs and 12 human-socialized wolves.

In this study, the animals had to make a choice between two objects, of which one contained hidden food and one was empty.

First of all, the researchers tested whether the animals can make use of communicative cues, such as direct eye-contact and pointing gestures to choose the correct object.

Secondly, the dogs and wolves had to rely on behavioural cues, in which the experimenter only showed the location of the hidden food through her behaviour, without making any eye-contact with the animals.

An example of this is reaching out to the correct object. Lastly, the animals had to make inferences about the location of the hidden food themselves, based on causal cues such as the noise produced by an object containing food when shaken.

Both dogs and wolves were able to follow communicative cues to find hidden food.

However, without direct eye-contact, neither the dogs nor the wolves chose the correct object.

In the absence of a human to show them where the food was located, only the wolves were able to make causal inferences. In this experiment, the wolves showed an understanding of cause and effect, which the dogs lacked.


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