Photo: Vladimir Cherny / dumskaya.net
The theory of mind asserts that modeling mental states, the ability to put oneself in the place of another, is an exclusive ability of a person. Scientists consider it even one of the main markers of consciousness.
This ability begins to appear in a child with the process of socialization, from about 3-4 years of age. But it turned out that humans are not the only species that can simulate mental states.
BROTHERS IN MIND?
In July 2021, a study by a group of scientists led by Lucrezia Lonardo of the Vienna University of Veterinary Medicine was published in the journal Proceedings of The Royal Society. They managed to establish that dogs are one of the few animals that are quite capable of putting themselves in the place of another. Their ability to adapt to people is phenomenal.
Dogs perfectly recognize facial expressions, interpret the look, intonation and meaning of some language messages as well as humans. Moreover, they can make inferences about what their owner knows about and what not, and behave accordingly. The mental abilities of dogs are identical to the level of a child at the age of 2-3 years. The average dog knows about 165 words, can count to five, and notices errors in simple arithmetic calculations.
American psychologist and cynologist Stanley Coren believes that dogs have a very high social intelligence. They learned to use in their own interests the primordially human way of wordless communication, developed by our ancestors to strengthen social ties.
Experiments by Japanese biologists have shown that a positive feedback mechanism is involved in the formation of friendship between a dog and its owner – at the emotional and neurological levels, people behave with their pets like mothers with children.
In particular, “eye to eye” is the oldest communication method, involved in the formation of an emotional bond between mother and child. But this is how people and dogs often understand each other. Studies have shown that the more often and longer the dog looks at the owner, the more it produces oxytocin – a hormone that increases love for “friends”. But with wolves, for example, and other wild animals, this does not happen: “eye to eye” is a sign of threat, not trust and affection for them.
DOG LIE DETECTOR
Over the course of five years, Lonardo and her colleagues have tested dogs from more than 200 different breeds. By examining the perception of perspective in animals, they found that they are quite effective in identifying hidden mental states in humans. In particular, by facial expressions they are able to discern whether a person knows exactly where food is hidden, or only guesses where, in his opinion, it may be.
In addition, they performed remarkably well on tests to distinguish between false and true beliefs. By the way, similar tests are used for children at the age of 4-5 years to demonstrate how the theory of mind works. For dogs, they were, of course, slightly modified.
The first experimenter, in full view of the animals, hid the food in one of two boxes, and then he changed their places. Then there were options: the second experimenter deliberately deceived the animal – he invited the dog to look for food in an empty box or asked it to make an assumption about its location.
TRUST BUT VERIFY!
The point of the experiment was to understand: will the dog be able to determine whether the person, who offers it to make a choice, knows the truth about the real state of affairs or not? In 60% of cases, the dogs trusted themselves, not the experimenter, and chose a container with food even when people pointed to another.
The rest, even knowing where the food was actually located, followed the instructions of the person. The most interesting thing: if the dogs understood that the person was unintentionally mistaken, because he was not personally present at the time of changing the boxes, they followed the “false gesture” in 48% of cases. When the lie was deliberate, that is, the experimenter witnessed the forgery and the dog knew it, the number of gullible tetrapods dropped to 28%.
Thus, Lonardo was able to prove that dogs can change the perspective of vision, put themselves in the place of another and understand the difference between true and false beliefs. However, unlike children and great apes, dogs tend to trust the wrong people a lot more than the ones who know the right answer.
Scientists have suggested that this is due to the condescending good nature of animals towards their owners: to please the owner is much more important than being right. However, in general, dogs generally trusted more conscientious people, and they were suspicious of deceivers. The only exception from all breeds was terriers – they made decisions on their own, not being guided by the opinion of a person.
Apparently, this happened due to different approaches to selection. If greyhounds were bred so that they could, regardless of outside instructions, pursue prey; then the collie, pointer, or retriever were oriented toward cooperation. It was this attitude, embedded in the genes, that made them more successful in recognizing deception and deceivers.
Research of the last 30 years confirms the existence of consciousness in “our little brothers”. Just like people, animals have a mind that differs from a human not qualitatively, but only quantitatively. In different biological species, depending on their habitat, the level of intellectual abilities always varies. But in general, the most “intelligent” are great apes and dolphins, talking about birds – ravens and parrots.
Naturally, scientists find elements of social consciousness not only in dogs. So, monkeys are capable of the most complicated “political” intrigues, they perfectly understand that if individual A is stronger than individual B, then it is better to be friends with A than with B. And the monkey also realizes that during the fight between A and B, it will be able to steal from under their noses some tidbit. That is, it is able to manifest the most sophisticated “Machiavellianism”.
Higher primates are capable, like humans, of deliberately withholding information from their relatives and even deliberately deceiving them. Dogs and some other animals demonstrate similar manifestations of social behavior to one degree or another. This is the highest stage of social consciousness.