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Mind

Anthropology as a dog side-effect skill

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanFebruary 26, 2010 3:36 AM

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Social Cognition in Dogs, or How did Fido get so smart?. This you know:

Domesticated dogs seem to have an uncanny ability to understand human communicative gestures. If you point to something the dog zeroes in on the object or location you're pointing to (whether it's a toy, or food, or to get his in-need-of-a-bath butt off your damn bed and back onto his damn bed). Put another way, if your attention is on something, or if your attention is directed to somewhere, dogs seem to be able to turn their attention onto that thing or location as well. Amazingly, dogs seem to be better at this than primates (including our nearest cousins, the chimpanzees) and better than their nearest cousins, wild wolves.

But there are two explanations for how/why dogs are better than primates at this task:

And so it was that biological anthropologist Brian Hare, director of the of Duke University Canine Cognition Center wondered: did dogs get so smart because of direct selection for this ability during the domestication of dogs, or did this apparent intelligence evolve, in a sense, by accident, because of selection against fear and aggression?

I didn't even consider that it would be anything except for direct selection. In any case, read the whole post for a run-down of the paper, but here's the blogger's conclusion:

So, these results appear to support the correlated by-product hypothesis, and not the selection for communication hypothesis. It suggests that the evolution of social cognitive abilities in domesticated dogs mirrors that process observed in the experimentally domesticated silver foxes, and that it was a by-product of selection against fear and aggression. To really really get at this question, a study of wolves should be conducted as well. More broadly, the social intelligence hypothesis (which is another way of framing the selection for communication hypothesis) asserts that primate (and human) intelligence was driven by the need to predict and manipulate the behavior of others, by reading subtle cues in their behavior. These findings suggest that human intelligence may have evolved, instead, as a by-product of selection against fear of and aggression towards others.

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