MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group

Budapest, Hungary

MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group

Budapest, Hungary
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Met A.,University of Rennes 1 | Miklosi A.,Eötvös Loránd University | Lakatos G.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group
Animal Cognition | Year: 2014

Although gaze-following abilities have been demonstrated in a wide range of species, so far no clear evidence has been available for dogs. In the current study, we examined whether dogs follow human gaze behind an opaque barrier in two different contexts, in a foraging situation and in a non-foraging situation (food involved vs. food not involved in the situation). We assumed that dogs will spontaneously follow the human gaze and that the foraging context will have a positive effect on dogs’ gaze-following behaviour by causing an expectation in the dogs that food might be hidden somewhere in the room and might be communicated by the experimenter. This expectation presumably positively affects their motivational and attentional state. Here, we report that dogs show evidence of spontaneous gaze-following behind barriers in both situations. According to our findings, the dogs gazed earlier at the barrier in the indicated direction in both contexts. However, as we expected, the context also has some effect on dogs’ gaze-following behaviour, as more dogs gazed behind the barrier in the indicated direction in the foraging situation. The present results also support the idea that gaze-following is a characteristic skill in mammals which may more easily emerge in certain functional contexts. © 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


Farago T.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Andics A.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Devecseri V.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Kis A.,Eötvös Loránd University | And 4 more authors.
Biology Letters | Year: 2014

Humans excel at assessing conspecific emotional valence and intensity, based solely on non-verbal vocal bursts that are also common in other mammals. It is not known, however, whether human listeners rely on similar acoustic cues to assess emotional content in conspecific and heterospecific vocalizations, and which acoustical parameters affect their performance. Here, for the first time, we directly compared the emotional valence and intensity perception of dog and human non-verbal vocalizations.We revealed similar relationships between acoustic features and emotional valence and intensity ratings of human and dog vocalizations: those with shorter call lengths were rated as more positive, whereas those with a higher pitch were rated as more intense. Our findings demonstrate that humans rate conspecific emotional vocalizations along basic acoustic rules, and that they apply similar rules when processing dog vocal expressions. This suggests that humans may utilize similar mental mechanisms for recognizing human and heterospecific vocal emotions. © 2014 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


Miklosi A.,Eötvös Loránd University | Miklosi A.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Topal J.,Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Trends in Cognitive Sciences | Year: 2013

The traditional and relatively narrow-focused research on ape-human comparisons has recently been significantly extended by investigations of different clades of animals, including the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Here, we provide a short overview of how the comparative investigation of canine social behaviour advances our understanding of the evolution of social skills and argue that a system-level approach to dog social cognition provides a broader view on the 'human-likeness' of canine social competence. We introduce the concept of evolutionary social competence as a collateral notion of developmental social competence. We argue that such an extended perspective on social competence provides a useful tool for conceptualising wolf-dog differences in socio-cognitive functioning, as well as for considering specific social skills not in isolation, but as a part of a system. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Gacsi M.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Vas J.,Eötvös Loránd University | Topal J.,Hungarian Academy of Sciences | Miklosi A.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Miklosi A.,Eötvös Loránd University
Applied Animal Behaviour Science | Year: 2013

In this study we aimed to investigate novel aspects of dogs' comprehension of human social behaviours by revealing potential differences in the responses of wolves and dogs when they interact with a human in socially ambiguous situations. In Experiment 1, pet dogs (N= 13) and hand-reared wolves (N= 13) encountered a stranger who approached them first in a friendly, then a threatening way, and finally switched back to friendliness again (Approaching stranger; AS) while the passive owner/caregiver was standing close to the subjects. In contrast to dogs, wolves avoided eye contact with both the caregiver and the stranger, however, only dogs showed aggressive displays towards the stranger. In Experiment 2, the same subjects were tested in an Object guarding (OG) situation. A familiar woman, communicating the playful nature of the encounter, pretended to aim at taking away her belt-bag from the subjects trying to make them respond with guarding behaviour. Finally, she tried to take away the object without using dominant/threatening behaviour. During the Game episode some dogs and wolves showed guarding displays, but only dogs switched their responses twice and finally allowed the human take hold of the object. All dogs but none of the wolves gazed at the owner/caregiver during the test. In Experiment 3, we tested trained Belgian shepherd dogs (N= 13) in AS, OG, and in a Food guarding (FG) situation. In FG a familiar woman challenged the subject to guard a bone by applying enticement but otherwise not communicating the playful/pretended nature of the encounter. Dogs displayed aggressive behaviours in all three situations as a response to the human's behaviour. In AS they adjusted their behaviour from passive/friendly to aggressive and then friendly again, according to the switch in the human partner's actions. In OG and FG situations, after showing aggressive guarding displays they allowed the human to take away the guarded object, both the bag and the food. A characteristic high-pitched vocalisation observed during both guarding situations, typically before the first aggressive display, could refer to the dogs' ambivalent emotions. This suggests that the human's challenging behaviour alone might be effective to evoke a simulated guarding behaviour. Our results support the view that dogs have advanced abilities and readiness to combine seemingly contradicting behaviour responses to respond to human behaviours or expectations, whilst even hand-reared and extensively socialised wolves tend to display less human centred behaviours and adjust their behaviours less to that of humans' in interspecific situations. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.


Sumegi Z.,Eötvös Loránd University | Gacsi M.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Topal J.,Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Applied Animal Behaviour Science | Year: 2014

In humans, placebo effect can be produced by giving verbal information and also by conditioning when, after repeated administration of an active substance, an inactive compound that just looks like the drug administered before, can produce the effect of the active substance. Conditioned placebo effect has been reported in rodents, however, the dog (Canis familiaris) may also provide a promising model species. In our study dogs' behaviour was observed while they were repeatedly separated from their owners in the same unfamiliar room. First, subjects did not receive any pre-treatment (Baseline trial), then they participated in either of two different conditioning contexts: after having received either sedative drug (Conditioned group) or non-sedating vitamin (Control group) treatment, subjects participated in 3 conditioning trials on consecutive days. Finally, in the 'Test trial', both groups were separated from their owners after receiving placebo (non-sedating vitamin). Results show significant effect of the sedative drug conditioning; when comparing the change from Baseline to Test trials in the Conditioned and the Control groups, conditioned subjects showed less active signs of distress (U(26)=48, p=0.021) and more passive behaviours (U(26)=50, p=0.027). We also investigated the association between dogs' susceptibility to conditioned placebo effect and their expectancy bias towards positive outcomes and found a positive correlation (r(12)=0.697, p=0.008), suggesting that dogs with more positive expectations are more responsive to placebo treatment. Considering previous human findings about stronger responsiveness to placebo in optimistic people, our results support the validity of the application of a dog model towards a better understanding of some aspects of the placebo phenomena in humans. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.


Andics A.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Gacsi M.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Farago T.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Kis A.,Eötvös Loránd University | And 3 more authors.
Current Biology | Year: 2014

Summary During the approximately 18-32 thousand years of domestication [1], dogs and humans have shared a similar social environment [2]. Dog and human vocalizations are thus familiar and relevant to both species [3], although they belong to evolutionarily distant taxa, as their lineages split approximately 90-100 million years ago [4]. In this first comparative neuroimaging study of a nonprimate and a primate species, we made use of this special combination of shared environment and evolutionary distance. We presented dogs and humans with the same set of vocal and nonvocal stimuli to search for functionally analogous voice-sensitive cortical regions. We demonstrate that voice areas exist in dogs and that they show a similar pattern to anterior temporal voice areas in humans. Our findings also reveal that sensitivity to vocal emotional valence cues engages similarly located nonprimary auditory regions in dogs and humans. Although parallel evolution cannot be excluded, our findings suggest that voice areas may have a more ancient evolutionary origin than previously known. Video Abstract © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


Gacsi M.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Maros K.,Szent Istvan University | Sernkvist S.,Eötvös Loránd University | Farago T.,Eötvös Loránd University | Miklosi A.,Eötvös Loránd University
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

The secure base and safe haven effects of the attachment figure are central features of the human attachment theory. Recently, conclusive evidence for human analogue attachment behaviours in dogs has been provided, however, the owner's security-providing role in danger has not been directly supported. We investigated the relationship between the behavioural and cardiac response in dogs (N = 30) while being approached by a threatening stranger in separation vs. in the presence of the owner, presented in a balanced order. Non-invasive telemetric measures of heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) data during the threatening approaches was compared to periods before and after the encounters. Dogs that showed distress vocalisation during separation (N = 18) and that growled or barked at the stranger during the threatening approach (N = 17) were defined as behaviourally reactive in the given situation. While characteristic stress vocalisations were emitted during separations, the absence of the owner did not have an effect on dogs' mean HR, but significantly increased the HRV. The threatening approach increased dogs' mean HR, with a parallel decrease in the HRV, particularly in dogs that were behaviourally reactive to the encounter. Importantly, the HR increase was significantly less pronounced when dogs faced the stranger in the presence of the owner. Moreover, the test order, whether the dog encountered the stranger first with or without its owner, also proved important: HR increase associated with the encounter in separation seemed to be attenuated in dogs that faced the stranger first in the presence of their owner. We provided evidence for human analogue safe haven effect of the owner in a potentially dangerous situation. Similarly to parents of infants, owners can provide a buffer against stress in dogs, which can even reduce the effect of a subsequent encounter with the same threatening stimuli later when the owner is not present. © 2013 Gácsi et al.


Pongracz P.,Eötvös Loránd University | Gacsi M.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group | Hegedus D.,Eötvös Loránd University | Peter A.,Eötvös Loránd University | And 2 more authors.
Animal Cognition | Year: 2013

Several articles have been recently published on dogs' (Canis familiaris) performance in two-way object choice experiments in which subjects had to find hidden food by utilizing human pointing. The interpretation of results has led to a vivid theoretical debate about the cognitive background of human gestural signal understanding in dogs, despite the fact that many important details of the testing method have not yet been standardized. We report three experiments that aim to reveal how some procedural differences influence adult companion dogs' performance in these tests. Utilizing a large sample in Experiment 1, we provide evidence that neither the keeping conditions (garden/house) nor the location of the testing (outdoor/indoor) affect a dogs' performance. In Experiment 2, we compare dogs' performance using three different types of pointing gestures. Dogs' performance varied between momentary distal and momentary cross-pointing but "low" and "high" performer dogs chose uniformly better than chance level if they responded to sustained pointing gestures with reinforcement (food reward and a clicking sound; "clicker pointing"). In Experiment 3, we show that single features of the aforementioned "clicker pointing" method can slightly improve dogs' success rate if they were added one by one to the momentary distal pointing method. These results provide evidence that although companion dogs show a robust performance at different testing locations regardless of their keeping conditions, the exact execution of the human gesture and additional reinforcement techniques have substantial effect on the outcomes. Consequently, researchers should standardize their methodology before engaging in debates on the comparative aspects of socio-cognitive skills because the procedures they utilize may differ in sensitivity for detecting differences. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


Farago T.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group
Biology letters | Year: 2014

Humans excel at assessing conspecific emotional valence and intensity, based solely on non-verbal vocal bursts that are also common in other mammals. It is not known, however, whether human listeners rely on similar acoustic cues to assess emotional content in conspecific and heterospecific vocalizations, and which acoustical parameters affect their performance. Here, for the first time, we directly compared the emotional valence and intensity perception of dog and human non-verbal vocalizations. We revealed similar relationships between acoustic features and emotional valence and intensity ratings of human and dog vocalizations: those with shorter call lengths were rated as more positive, whereas those with a higher pitch were rated as more intense. Our findings demonstrate that humans rate conspecific emotional vocalizations along basic acoustic rules, and that they apply similar rules when processing dog vocal expressions. This suggests that humans may utilize similar mental mechanisms for recognizing human and heterospecific vocal emotions.


Fugazza C.,Eötvös Loránd University | Miklosi A.,Eötvös Loránd University | Miklosi A.,MTA ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group
Animal Cognition | Year: 2014

This study demonstrates for the first time deferred imitation of novel actions in dogs (Canis familiaris) with retention intervals of 1.5 min and memory of familiar actions with intervals ranging from 0.40 to 10 min. Eight dogs were trained using the 'Do as I do' method to match their own behaviour to actions displayed by a human demonstrator. They were then trained to wait for a short interval to elapse before they were allowed to show the previously demonstrated action. The dogs were then tested for memory of the demonstrated behaviour in various conditions, also with the so-called two-action procedure and in a control condition without demonstration. Dogs were typically able to reproduce familiar actions after intervals as long as 10 min, even if distracted by different activities during the retention interval and were able to match their behaviour to the demonstration of a novel action after a delay of 1 min. In the two-action procedure, dogs were typically able to imitate the novel demonstrated behaviour after retention intervals of 1.5 min. The ability to encode and recall an action after a delay implies that facilitative processes cannot exhaustively explain the observed behavioural similarity and that dogs' imitative abilities are rather based on an enduring mental representation of the demonstration. Furthermore, the ability to imitate a novel action after a delay without previous practice suggests presence of declarative memory in dogs. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

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