Claim: Dogs can form “abstract concepts”

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Photo credit: Marcus Wallis via Unsplash.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo recently reported on a study of three pet dogs they had taught to “reflecting on one’s past”:

Dogs are able to learn the “do it again” instruction and can flexibly access memories of their own recent actions – cognitive abilities they weren’t known to possess, according to the results of a recent study from the University at Buffalo.

“We discovered that dogs could be trained to repeat specific actions at the right time, then take what they learned and apply them to actions they were never asked to repeat,” says Allison Scagel. , Ph.D., corresponding author of the study. , who was a UB graduate student in the Department of Psychology at the time of the research. “Our results showed that they were able to apply the concept of repetition to new situations.”

BERT GAMBINI, UNIVERSITY OF BUFFALODOGS CAN DO MORE THAN JUST TRICKS, THEY CAN EVEN BE ASKED TO REFLECT ON THEIR PAST” TO PHYS.ORG (JULY 14, 2022); THE PAPER REQUIRES FEES OR SUBSCRIPTION.

No surprises yet

Nothing about this should come as a surprise. Dogs learning to chase rabbits or escape through the fence often have to apply the skills they’ve learned in one situation to another.

But then we are told,

“More generally, we found evidence that dogs are able to form abstract concepts.”

Historically, there has been a notion that awareness of past personal experiences is the exclusive domain of humans, but recent research does not support this conclusion, according to Scagel.

“Our study shows that dogs are capable of conceptualization, placing them in an expanding category of other animals that includes bottlenose dolphins and chimpanzees.”

BERT GAMBINI, UNIVERSITY OF BUFFALODOGS CAN DO MORE THAN JUST TRICKS, THEY CAN EVEN BE ASKED TO REFLECT ON THEIR PAST” TO PHYS.ORG (JULY 14, 2022) ON PAPER REQUIRES FEES OR SUBSCRIPTION.

No wait. “Forming abstract concepts? »

Here’s what the dogs actually did, according to the researchers:

Traditional dog training is a signal and a response. When dogs hear or see a trained signal, they respond with behavior associated with that signal. For a baseline, researchers began training dogs in this way, with simple cues like turning in a circle, lying down, or walking around an object.

The dogs then learned a separate repeat cue (the word “again” accompanied by a hand gesture), which instructed them to repeat the action they had just completed. To assess whether the dogs had actually learned a general concept of repeating recent actions, they were asked to repeat new actions that they had never been asked to repeat before. Although they were never trained to repeat these actions, the dogs passed this test.

BERT GAMBINI, UNIVERSITY IN BUFFALODOGS CAN DO MORE THAN JUST TRICKS, THEY CAN EVEN BE ASKED TO REFLECT ON THEIR PAST” TO PHYS.ORG (JULY 14, 2022) ON PAPER REQUIRES FEES OR SUBSCRIPTION.

They are well behaved dogs. They knew to “repeat” the action they had just completed when they were told to repeat it. But again, “forming abstract concepts”? No. Abstractions are things like social justice, the square root of negative 1, time travel, or, for that matter, animal intelligence theories. Dogs don’t think that way; neither do bottlenose dolphins or chimpanzees.

Read more on The mind matterspublished by the Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence at the Discovery Institute.

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