A new study shows that dogs and 2-year-old children have the same patterns in social intelligence. The study, which has been published in the journal Animal Behavior, could help us understand how people evolved socially.
The researchers studied 105 children aged two years, 552 dogs that included different breeds of assistance-dogs, pet dogs and military dogs, and 106 chimpanzees. They underwent tests that determined their cognition like game-based tests.
Overall, the chimps did well on the tests, which included those that tested their spatial reasoning. But they did not perform well in tests that tried to learn more about their communication skills like the ability to follow human gaze or a pointing finger.
On the other hand, children and dogs did better on the communication skills tests. The team also noticed similar patterns of variation in performance between children and dogs.
“What we found is that there’s this pattern, where dogs who are good at one of these social things tend to be good at lots of the related social things, and that’s the same thing you find in kids, but you don’t find it in chimpanzees,” said Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona.
The researchers believe that these similarities may be due to the similar pressures dogs and children evolved. These pressures, which is to be the friendliest, allowed them to reap rewards for more cooperative social behaviors.
“Our working hypothesis is that dogs and humans probably evolved some of these skills as a result of similar evolutionary processes, so probably some things that happened in human evolution were very similar to processes that happened in dog domestication,” MacLean added. “So, potentially, by studying dogs and domestication we can learn something about human evolution.”
According to him, the study could help us understand autism and other disabilities that impair social skills in humans. This would be the first time human behavior would be studied in dogs.
“There are different kinds of intelligence, and the kind of intelligence that we think is very important to humans is social in nature, and that’s the kind of intelligence that dogs have to an incredible extent,” stated MacLean. “But there are other aspects of cognition, like the way we reason about physical problems, where dogs are totally dissimilar to us. So we would never make the argument that dogs in general are a better model for the human mind — it’s really just this special set of social skills.”