Well, they may not be there to get their degrees, but poochess at Yale University are testing their brain power as well.
At the university’s Canine Cognition Center, dogs are entertained with puppet shows. One of the stories shows a rat puppet helping a hedgehog puppet up a hill, while another story shows the rat knocking the hedgehog down.
The Yale researchers are trying to find out what a dog thinks about each story.
“Similar studies have been done with human infants, and what you find is that human infants — they don’t like the guy who was mean. And so we’re doing the same thing with dogs to try to see — do dogs morally evaluate as humans do?” says Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos.“Dogs are just fascinating. We love them, they live in our home. Anyone who hangs out with a dog is constantly wondering: ‘What are they thinking? Do they love me?’”
The researchers aim to find out how canines think. In addition to the puppet shows, the researchers put hundreds of volunteer dogs through a series of other tests.
In one test, a dog sits and watches as their companion sits and reads a book. Then the book is put on the floor behind them and a moment later, someone else comes into the room and takes the book away.
“What we’re really trying to see is whether or not dogs know when they’ve missed some information. Can they realize that, first of all, and when they do realize it, are they motivated to help?” Santos said.
The results may amaze you. In the test, the dogs seem to realize something is wrong and that isn’t all. They also seem to try to alert their companions!
“He’s a very concerned dog and there’s a lot of humanizing things about him,” Rocket’s companion Sarah Locke said.
“He was just kind of like, ‘What do you think about this?’” said Angie Johnson, Vadar’s companion.
In another test, the dog and companion are in a room when the researcher suddenly introduces something new.
“She’s telling him, ‘Wow, look at how interesting that is,’” Santos said.
This test aims to see if the dog will become interested in the same things that humans are – and yes, the dogs are!
“When she did her pointing, all of a sudden, he was directing his gaze at the object, being really interested in it,” Santos said.
Going back to the puppet show, the test dogs seem to be a little suspicious of the mean rat.
“The most surprising thing for me has been about how many of our intuitions about dogs are right. So we have these intuitions that dogs know what we’re feeling, and dogs want to communicate with us,” said Rebecca Spaulding, a Yale junior.
“The relationship between dogs and humans, that’s very unique — They might have picked up on some of our cognitive skills,” Yale senior Sophia John said.
“One thing we have found consistently is how in tune dogs are with our emotions,” said Maddie Marino, a senior.
Since starting last year, the Yale researchers have tested 300 dogs and found that the dog mind is much more complex than what was originally thought.
According to the researchers, there is a lot more work to be done with as many as a thousand dogs on the center’s waiting list.