When you call your dog your baby is less of a stretch than you might think. Dogs are cognitively very similar to toddlers and learn in the same way. Earlier this year, a published study in the review Scientific reports suggests another way in which dogs’ mental abilities mirror those of humans – and hints at an essential connection between mind and body.
Discovery – The article presents evidence that dogs have self-awareness in the form of body awareness. This abstract notion implies the construction of its identity.
“Body consciousness is a mental capacity to organize someone’s action while taking into account the existence of his own body”, co-author Peter Pongrácz, an associate researcher at Eötvöz Loránd University in Hungary, said Reverse at the time.
REVERSE countdown the 20 scientific discoveries that made us say “WTF” in 2021. It’s # 10. See the full list here.
Why is this important – The famous phrase – I think therefore I am – sums up the ideas of ontology, which deals with the nature of being. Two ontological questions were raised in this study: How do we conceive of ourselves? And how does the self exist in our costume of flesh?
Or more fundamentally, how do we know that we identify with our body, located in its environment? In humans, this cognitive ability is seen in children as young as five months, who appear to be aware that they are moving their own legs. But self-representation and body awareness in animals remains a mystery to scientists.
“Self-awareness is a relatively under-studied area of canine cognition,” Pongrácz explains.
How they did it – In the study, he and his team started by placing the dogs on a small mat. On one side of the mat was the experimenter and on the other the owner of the dog. The owner ordered the dog to retrieve particular items that the researcher had previously installed, removed, or tied to the mat.
Two tests within this experiment specifically tested dogs’ knowledge of body awareness.
Test a: The first test was to ask the dog to retrieve a ball attached to the mat. The dogs must have realized that in order to make this wish come true, they had to leave the mat.
Second trial : The second test was to tie the object to the ground under the carpet instead.
Both of these tests asked dogs to determine a key distinction in body awareness: is there an obstacle blocking the object I want, or is my body the obstacle ?
In this latest test, the dogs left the mat later and less frequently, indicating that the dogs could perhaps tell when their body was or was not interfering with their recovery mission.
And after – The team argues that their findings prove that dogs have the ability to become aware of their bodies. If this is true, it implies that dogs may be capable of other more complex mental processes, such as understanding that actions have consequences. So when your dog is raiding the trash and then coming towards you looking sheepish and trying to please you, it might be less of a coincidence than you think.
While very few species have been tested for body consciousness, Pongrácz has a bold theory: it is possible that “any species that has a complex central nervous system and a relatively large body – and that moves fairly quickly and in a complex environment – should have the capacity for body awareness.
Which raises a whole new set of questions: Are horses also self-aware? Are elephants? Humans may not be as special as we think they are.
REVERSE countdown the 20 scientific discoveries that made us say “WTF” in 2021. It’s # 10. Read the original story here.