Study finds wolves understand cause and effect better than dogs

By Amy Wallace  |  Sept. 15, 2017 at 3:51 PM
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Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Scientists from the Wolf Science Center of the Vetmeduni Vienna have shown that wolves understand the connection between cause and effect better than dogs.

The study, published today in Scientific Reports, found that domesticated dogs could not make the connection between cause and effect when tested with an object that contained food made noise when shaken, but wolves could.

Researchers tested whether wolves and dogs can make use of communicative cues, such as direct eye contact and pointing gestures to choose a correct object, and if the animals had to rely on behavioral cues where they were only shown the location of a hidden food through the researcher's behavior without making eye contact with the animals.

The animals were also tested to make inferences about the location of the hidden food themselves based on causal cues such as the noise produced by an object containing food when the object was shaken.

The study showed that both wolves and dogs were able to follow communicative cues to find hidden food, but that without direct eye contact, neither were able to choose the correct object. Without a person to show them where the food was located, only the wolves were able to make causal inferences.

"The results of our study suggest that domestication has affected the causal understanding of our dogs," Michelle Lampe, of the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, said in a news release. "It cannot be excluded however, that the differences can be explained by the fact that wolves are more persistent to explore objects than dogs. Dogs are conditioned to receive food from us, whereas wolves have to find food themselves in nature."

Researchers were surprised to find the wolves' use of cues in connection to eye contact.

"The wolves' ability to understand human communicative cues may have facilitated domestication," Zsofia Virányi., from the Vetmeduni Vienna, said. "However, working with socialized wolves may have also impacted the results, as our animals are used to human contact. This could mask differences between the dogs and wolves, such as that dogs learn more easily about human communication throughout their lives."

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