A recent study conducted by researchers from the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University offers insights into the way dogs perceive and interpret the world around them. The study explores the phenomenon known as “spatial bias” and its connection to how dogs process information, shedding light on why dogs and humans often interpret gestures differently.
Spatial bias refers to the tendency to interpret information in relation to space, location, or distance, even when the same information could apply to an object. For example, when a person points at an object, toddlers often focus on the object itself, while dogs typically interpret the gesture as a directional cue.
The researchers found that the discrepancy in how dogs and humans interpret gestures may not only be attributed to differences in vision but could also reflect differences in cognitive processing. Specifically, “smarter” dogs appear to consider the appearance of an object as significant as its location, aligning their information processing more closely with that of humans.
Ivaylo Iotchev, the first author of the study, explained, “Very early on, children interpret the gesture as pointing to the object, while dogs take the pointing as a directional cue. In other words, regardless of the intention of the person giving the cue, the meaning for children and dogs is different.”
The research aimed to understand whether spatial bias in dogs is a result of their visual capabilities or an inherent bias in information processing. The study involved 82 dogs and two behavioral tests.
In one test, dogs were trained to learn the location of a treat on either the right or left plate, focusing on spatial information. In the other test, dogs were exposed to two types of plates (white round and black square) in the middle but received only one type to eat from, emphasizing object properties. The researchers measured how quickly the dogs learned in each task.
The results indicated that dogs learned faster when they needed to choose a direction (spatial bias) but had more difficulty remembering object features (plate properties). The “spatial bias” measure demonstrated that dogs excelled in learning about location compared to object properties.
This study suggests that spatial bias in dogs is not solely sensory but may involve cognitive elements, highlighting the importance of understanding how dogs think and process information.