Graduation Year


Publication Date

Spring 2020


Compared to many other species, including non-human primates, dogs perform exceptionally well on social reasoning tasks such as locating a hidden object by following a human point. One such task, understanding false beliefs (FB)--that another individual may possess a belief contrary to both one’s own belief and reality--serves as a pinnacle in understanding social reasoning. Humans understand FB but whether nonhumans do remains controversial. We predicted that dogs, given their unusual social savvy, may understand FB. We presented dogs with a stage and a duck resting on it. The dog and researcher watched the duck move inside one of two boxes positioned on either end of the stage. An occluder then obscured the researcher so they could not see events on stage. While the researcher’s vision was occluded, the dog watched as the duck moved to the opposite box. The occluder dropped to reveal the researcher, who then reached either toward the box where they had last seen the duck (as animals possessing FB understanding would expect) or to the box where the duck actually was (as animals possessing FB understanding would find unusual). Results suggest that dogs do not look longer (an indicator of surprise) when the researcher searched the unexpected box, suggesting that, contrary to our predictions, dogs may not understand FB. However, an alternative explanation is that we did not have enough statistical power to detect a significant difference in looking time due to COVID-19 and the unanticipated global shutdown.



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