Dogs succeed while chimps fail at following finger pointing

Feb 08, 2012

Dogs are better than chimps at interpreting pointing gestures, according to a study published in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Katharina Kirchhofer, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, led a team in the investigation of 20 and 32 dogs presented with the same task: retrieving an object the experimenter wanted, as indicated by the experimenter pointing. The researchers found that the dogs performed well, but the chimps failed to identify the object of interest. These results emphasize the difference in chimp response to human gaze, which they have been shown to be good at following, versus gestures.

"The fact that do not understand communicative intentions of others, suggests that this may be a uniquely human form of communication. The dogs however challenge this hypothesis. We therefore need to study in more detail the mechanisms behind dogs' understanding of human forms of communication", says Dr. Kirchhofer.

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More information: Kirchhofer KC, Zimmermann F, Kaminski J, Tomasello M (2012) Dogs (Canis familiaris), but Not Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Understand Imperative Pointing. PLoS ONE 7(2): e30913. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030913

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User comments : 4

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dweeb
5 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2012
pointing derived from group oriented hunting ? we may even have learned it from canine pets ?
ziphead
1 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2012
Come on, this has been known for some time; a documentary on co-evolution of humans and dogs was screened in Australia at least a year ago and it outlined this specific fact.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2012
Dogs are predators. They folllow stuff that moves fast. Try pointing your finger slowly and NO dog will get the ball for you. Stand still with your arm pointing when the dog comes in the door and it will NOT go and fetch what you're pointing at.

It's not the gesture - it's the speed of the gesture.

Dogs don't understand the gesture. They just follow the fast motion (just like when you throw a ball but don't actually throw it - the dog will still run in that direction because it ANTICIPATES a fast moving object to follow a certain trajectory)...with the tiny attention span a dog has you can direct it with such a 'ruse' (quick pointing gesture) to where something interesting is.
Anda
5 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2012
I agree with ziphead since dogs where "created" by humans and there are according to the last discoveries almost 30.000 years of "co-evolution"