Most dog owners will tell you that having a dog is just like having another child. New research at the University of Arizona shows that this statement might actually be more accurate than previously thought!
Evan MacLean, lead author of the study, and his team, found that toddlers and dogs show similiar social intelligence patterns, and that these similarities outweigh those seen between human children and chimpanzees, our closest genetic relative.
The research team studied various types of cognitive behaviours in 105 2-year-old children, 550 dogs, and 106 chimpanzees. Various breeds of dogs were included in the study, and the researchers recruited pet dogs, assistance-dogs-in-training, and military dogs.
MacLean explains, “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.”
What’s causing these similarities? The team suggests that the evolutionary pathways of both humans and dogs may have caused both species to favor friendly behaviors. This means that over our ancestral lineage, being more cooperative socially reaped more rewards and benefits.
“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 adds. “So, potentially, by studying dogs and domestication we can learn something about human evolution.”
The authors make it clear that they do not think dogs should replace chimps as a model for the human mind, but that in terms of social intelligence, dogs might provide us with explanations that can help understand human social disabilities such as Autism.
“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,” MacLean said. “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.”
It seems that man’s best friend has more to offer than previously thought!