Saturday, 3 August 2013

Humans not that special

It irritates me that humans as a species think we are so special and that we can do anything we want to our planet. I think this is actually one of the reasons that people believe in gods as we believe we are special. For this reason I was pleased when I read this article online a week ago (yes, it took that long to blog about it). The details in the paper are fascinating, and the reason I took such interest was that I originally doubted the claims.

The article and related research paper (subscription depending on affiliation) have to do with the results from tests that show dogs are capable of deferred imitation and declarative memory. So first lets get to what this means by looking at definitions.
Deferred imitation: refers to observing a model and replicating important aspects of the model's behaviour after some significant period.
Declarative memory: refers to memories which can be consciously recalled such as facts and knowledge

So in essence what we have here is dogs showing that they can remember and recall memories. This was done by the dogs repeating tasks that they had previously learnt from their owners after time intervals of up to 10 minutes. Now this may not seem like a long time, but in human babies this retention time is a lot less for deferred imitation.  This is remarkable as it does show that dogs are able to form memories and recall these memories. Interestingly, the clincher for me in this study was that the dogs were distracted by doing other tasks between learning the original task and reperforming it. This is in my opinion very conclusive that the dogs are definitely retaining memories.

So there you have it humans are not so special after all. Dogs have joined the club along with dolphins, chimpanzees, gorillas, all the other primates I am forgetting etc etc etc. It seems weird saying that as growing up with dogs I pretty much always knew they were intelligent.  

(Pic source)