A new study tested to what extent dogs can sense human deception.
Is humanity's best friend catching on to our shenanigans? Researchers at the University of Vienna discovered that dogs can in certain cases know when people are lying.
The scientists carried out a study with hundreds of dogs to determine to what extent dogs could spot deception. The team's new paper, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, outlined experiments that tested whether dogs, like humans, have some inner sense of how to assess truthfulness.
As the researchers wrote in their paper, "Among non-primates, dogs (Canis familiaris) constitute a particularly interesting case, as their social environment has been shared with humans for at least 14,000 years. For this reason, dogs have been considered as a model species for the comparative investigation of socio-cognitive abilities." The investigation focused specifically on understanding if dogs were "sensitive to some mental or psychological states of humans."
The experiments involved 260 dogs, which were made to listen to advice from a human "communicator" whom they did not know. The human told them which one of two bowls had a treat hidden inside by touching it and saying, "Look, this is very good!" If the dogs took the person's advice, they would get the treat.
Once they established the trust of the dogs, the researchers then complicated the experience by letting dogs watch another human that they did not know transfer the treat from one bowl to another. In some cases, the original communicator would also be present to watch but not always.
The findings revealed that half of the dogs did not follow the advice of the communicator if that person was not present when the food was switched to a different bowl. The dogs had a sense that this human could not have known the true location of the treat. Furthermore, two-thirds of the dogs ignored the human's suggestion if she did see the food switch but pointed to the wrong bowl. The dogs figured out the human was lying to them.
Photos of experiments showing the dog, human communicator, and person hiding the treat. Credit: Lucrezia Lonardo et al / Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
"We thought dogs would behave like children under age five and apes, but now we speculate that perhaps dogs can understand when someone is being deceitful," co-author Ludwig Huber from the University of Vienna told New Scientist. "Maybe they think, 'This person has the same knowledge as me, and is nevertheless giving me the wrong [information].' It's possible they could see that as intentionally misleading, which is lying."
This is not the first time such experiments have been carried out. Previously, children under age five, macaques, and chimps were tested in a similar way. It turned out that children and other animals were more likely than dogs to listen to the advice of the liars. Notably, among the dogs, terriers were found to be more like children and apes, more eagerly following false suggestions.
Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla
- For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
- The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
- The structure may allow sharks to better survive long breaks between feasts.
Considering how much sharks are feared by humans, it is a bit of a surprise that scientists don't know much about the predators. For example, until recently, sharks were thought to be solitary creatures searching the seas for food on their own. Now it appears that some sharks are quite social.
Another mystery is how these prehistoric swimming and eating machines digest food. Although scientists have made 2D sketches of captured sharks' digestive systems based on dissections, there is a limit to what can be learned in this way. Professor Adam Summers at University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs says:
"Intestines are so complex, with so many overlapping layers, that dissection destroys the context and connectivity of the tissue. It would be like trying to understand what was reported in a newspaper by taking scissors to a rolled-up copy. The story just won't hang together."
Summers is co-author of a new study that has produced the first 3D scans of a shark's intestines, which turns out to have a strange, corkscrew structure. What's even more bizarre is that it resembles the amazing one-way valve designed by inventor Nikola Tesla in 1920. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
What a 3D model reveals
Video: Pacific spiny dogfish intestine youtu.be
According to the study's lead author Samantha Leigh, "It's high time that some modern technology was used to look at these really amazing spiral intestines of sharks. We developed a new method to digitally scan these tissues and now can look at the soft tissues in such great detail without having to slice into them."
"CT scanning is one of the only ways to understand the shape of shark intestines in three dimensions," adds Summers. The researchers scanned the intestines of nearly three dozen different shark species.
It is believed that sharks go for extended periods — days or even weeks — between big meals. The scans reveal that food passes slowly through the intestine, affording sharks' digestive system the time to fully extract its nutrient value. The researchers hypothesize that such a slow digestive process may also require less energy.
It could be that this slow digestion is more susceptible to back flow given that the momentum of digested food through the tract must be minimal. Perhaps that is why sharks evolved something so similar to a Tesla valve.
What is Tesla's valve doing there?
Above, a Tesla valve. Below, a shark intestine.Credit: Samantha Leigh / California State University, Domi
Tesla's "valvular conduit," or what the world now calls a "Tesla valve," is a one-way valve with no moving parts. Its brilliance is based in fluid dynamics and only now coming to be fully appreciated. Essentially, a series of teardrop-shaped loops arranged along the length of the valve allow water to flow easily in one direction but not in the other. Modern tests reveal that at low flow rates, water can travel through the valve either way, but at high flow rates, the design kicks in. According to mathematician Leif Ristroph:
"Crucially, this turn-on comes with the generation of turbulent flows in the reverse direction, which 'plug' the pipe with vortices and disrupting currents. Moreover, the turbulence appears at far lower flow rates than have ever previously been observed for pipes of more standard shapes — up to 20 times lower speed than conventional turbulence in a cylindrical pipe or tube. This shows the power it has to control flows, which could be used in many applications."
A deeper dive
Summers suggests the scans are just the beginning. "The vast majority of shark species, and the majority of their physiology, are completely unknown," says Summers, adding that "every single natural history observation, internal visualization, and anatomical investigation shows us things we could not have guessed at."
To this end, the researchers plan to use 3D printing to produce models through which they can observe the behavior of different substances passing through them — after all, sharks typically eat fish, invertebrates, mammals, and seagrass. They also plan to explore with engineers ways in which the shark intestine design could be used industrially, perhaps for the treatment of wastewater or for filtering microplastics.
It could fairly be said, though, that Nikola Tesla was 100 years ahead of them.
The ethical debate over zoos is going to grow louder. There might be a solution that involves robots.
- Zoos present a dilemma. On the one hand, they benefit conservation and research; on the other hand, placing animals (particularly intelligent ones) in captivity is ethically questionable.
- The more we learn about animals — especially how advanced or intelligent they are — the louder the debate will grow surrounding their captivity.
- Could zoos of the future feature realistic robots in place of animals?
How robots could end animal captivity in zoos and marine parks | Just Might Work www.youtube.com
In 1842, the Zoological Society of London opened up the doors to London Zoo to a very special guest: Queen Victoria. London Zoo is the oldest scientific zoo in the world, and the Zoological Society was anxious to see what the most powerful person in the world was to make of their rhinos, elephants, and quaggas (a species of zebra, now extinct). It did not go well.
While most of the tour went swimmingly, it all turned sour when Queen Victoria saw Jenny, the orangutan. This huge and hulking beast, one of the most intelligent of the primates, was the first of its kind to be seen in Europe. As Victoria saw Jenny's deliberate movements and her remarkable range of expressions, the Queen found her "frightful, painfully, disagreeably human." Victoria was quite okay to see herd animals and tiny critters, but the prospect of large, intelligent life caged up for her amusement? She was not amused.
The argument against zoos
Queen Victoria's qualms are not uncommon. Zoos make many of us uneasy. No matter how shiny a ribbon we put on it, ultimately we go to the zoo to derive pleasure from the captivity of animals that were never meant to be behind bars. No matter how large a lion's enclosure, how regularly the penguins are fed, or how attentively a sick giraffe is tended, the fact is that we go to zoos to enjoy the show animals provide us. We reduce them to objects for our enjoyment.
It seems that most people only go to the zoo because it's a fun day out — sort of like an amusement park, except the animals are real rather than teenagers in giant costumes. Few seem to go for a truly educational experience. Instead, they gawp and point.
Philosophers such as Aristotle and David Hume long argued what modern science needed very little effort to prove: animals think and feel. Monkeys experience pain, wallabies nurture their young, and stoats can lay traps for their prey. There is intelligence, sentience, and emotion in the animal world. Is it ethical to lock up creatures like this?
The argument for zoos
However, most zoos today, especially in the developed world, function as massive, well-funded centers for research. Furthermore, they do educate and inspire generations of new conservationists and zoologists, even if that's a small minority of the customers who attend.
Zoos also do their best to minimize the pain and death of their animals, a rather tangible benefit that these animals would not receive in the wild. In a zoo, a zebra gets hay on the menu; in the wild, the zebra itself is on the menu. Maybe captivity isn't so bad, after all.
The biggest and most reputable zoos and aquariums in the world collectively fund over 2500 conservation projects across more than 100 countries to the tune of $160 million, providing experts with the cash they need to do their work. It would be naïve to suggest that the sheer scale of this could be matched by public service announcements or well produced viral videos, alone. In this light, could zoos be seen as the lesser of two evils — a form of collateral damage for the greater good?
This same logic applies to the repulsive idea of trophy hunting. While most of us are horrified, is it not objectively true that if some rich guy pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to a lion conservation project, would that not save far more lions in the long run than the one lion he goes on to shoot?
The issue that we are faced with today is the same one that Queen Victoria called out in 1842. The more we learn about animal intelligence, the worse we feel about keeping them in zoos. This is particularly true for mammals like primates, dolphins, and whales.
There may be a solution. A company in California created a robot dolphin so realistic that visitors did not know they were watching a robot. (See video above.) Could something like this keep the upside of zoos while eliminating the downside?
Eight-eyed arachnids can tell when an object's movement is not quite right.
- The ability to distinguish lifelike and non-lifelike movements is an important survival skill.
- Harvard scientists discovered that at least one invertebrate can do this.
- Scientists tested jumping spiders as they watched an animation and scuttled about on a floating treadmill.
The ability to discern living beings from inanimate objects is a useful skill. Lifelike movement is an important clue here: living things have a distinct way of moving that inanimate objects do not.
We know that this ability to distinguish the living from the non-living is common among vertebrates, but now a new study from Harvard scientists demonstrates that at least one invertebrate can do it, too. It's the jumping spider, the one with two big eyes and three little ones on either side.
The jumping spider's ability to readily identify living objects based on movement raises a larger question: is this a trait that's widespread among animals? The peculiar method the researchers used for their arachnid subjects may be of use in finding out.
Follow the dots
From previous human experiments, it was known that if a group of dots is animated to resemble the movement of human joints, we perceive that they represent a moving human. If the dots are still or move in a weird way, we simply perceive them as dots.
For this study with jumping spiders, the authors implemented a similar technique. Using a bunch of dots on a display screen, the researchers created ten animations. from these dots. (In most cases, the authors used dots, though they sometimes used other shapes, including a spider silhouette.) Some of the animations resembled spiders scurrying across the screen; others dots moved in a random manner.
Spider-like movementCredit: De Agrò, et al / PLOS BIOLOGY
Who knowsCredit: De Agrò, et al / PLOS BIOLOGY
To get the spiders to look at the animations, the researchers devised a sphere-based treadmill. Each spider was placed on a small platform atop a polystyrene ball floating on a cushion of air. The spider, resting on its cephalothorax, could "walk" in any direction as it responded to an animation. Really, though, it was staying put and actually just experiencing the illusion of movement as it moved the floating ball with its feet.
The researchers tested their dots on 60 jumping spiders of the species Menemerus semilimbatus, which were selected because of their unusual visual system. Their two large central eyes are understood to be the most capable, but they lack a wide field of vision. That's where the secondary eyes that wrap around the head come in. When these secondary eyes spot something interesting, the spiders direct their two large eyes toward it for a closer look.
This is exactly what happened when the spiders were shown an animation that moved in an unfamiliar, non-lifelike way. They appeared concerned. They swung their two large eyes toward these incomprehensible objects, apparently in an effort to make sense of them. This was especially true when they were shown animations exhibiting totally random, nonsensical movement.
However, for animations that moved like a living creature, the spiders remained still.
As the study's lead author, Massimi De Agrò, recalled, "The secondary eyes are looking at this point-light display of biological motion and it can already understand it, whereas the other random motion is weird and they don't understand what's there."
De Agrò says that their unique treadmill should allow the researchers to test whether insects, mollusks, and other invertebrates also have the ability to recognize "living" dot patterns.
One man studied apes for 50 years. He says nature isn't as cruel as you think.
- Primates practice altruism all the time and demonstrate a basic morality.
- These actions appear to be unmotivated by a hidden desire for self-interest.
- Indeed, altruism is necessary for the survival of social animals.
It is rather common to think of nature as an endless competition between animals for survival. Idioms like "survival of the fittest" or "it's a jungle out there" remind us that the state of nature is one of cutthroat competition where the altruistic are doomed and the heartless win.
But is it? What if nature isn't quite as cruel as we imagine it to be? In a recent interview with Big Think, primatologist Dr. Frans de Waal discusses animal morality, their capacity for altruism, and how our evolutionary history matters to us today.
Dr. Frans de Waal on animal altruism
Dr. Franciscus Bernardus Maria "Frans" de Waal is a Dutch primatologist who has spent his life studying the social behavior of primates. His work has shed light on our closest evolutionary cousins and their cognitive abilities.
It is through his work that the gentler side of our evolutionary relatives has become known. He has long maintained that empathy and altruism are common features of all apes, humans included, and that endless examples of animal altruism can be found by observation.
In an example he provides in a recent interview with BigThink, he describes the ability of primates to work together for the good of all group members:
"The primates are a very cooperative society in general. The reason they live in groups is that on their own they cannot survive. So they have to have companions from whom they get support, with whom they live together, who help them find food, who warn them against predators. And they have long-term friendships in their society just like humans have. There's a lot of studies on how animals do favors for each other. And if you think about how this works it has to be based on gratitude. Like you do something for me, and I do something back to you. There must be some sort of emotional mechanism in there."
Dr. de Waal has argued that these behaviors are based on genuine empathy, altruism, and the placing of value on interpersonal relationships by these animals. While his proposals earned more than a few objections early in his career, many researchers have come around to his ways of thinking and largely agree with the idea that the great apes do have these capacities.
Animal morality or just delayed self-interest?
It is easy to suppose that these cases are just egoism in disguise. Perhaps these seeming cases of altruism are really just animals playing the long game. Perhaps they help each other now only in expectation of favors in the near future.
However, it is important to remember that the notion of psychological egoism — the idea that all actions are always self-interested even if they appear not to be — is a controversial notion often criticized for being unfalsifiable, contrary to most people's experience, and likely an ineffective tool for evolution.
Dr. de Waal also points out that it becomes increasingly difficult to apply the notions of egoism to primate behavior when you see more and more of it. One such example he gives is the increasing number of known cases of chimp adoption:
"...in Tai forest, in Ivory Coast, there is a documentation of 10 cases of adoption by males, adult males, who have adopted an orphaned chimpanzee. So the chimpanzee loses its mother, chimpanzees are dependent on their mother for at least eight years of their life. So if you lose your mother at three years of age, you may be able to survive on solid food, but you still need to be carried and protected. And someone needs to explain to you what to eat and what not to eat. And adult males are willing to do that. And so they spend an enormous amount of time and energy into individuals that they don't get much back from. And I find that very interesting cases, these cases of altruism that don't fit any evolutionary scenario but nevertheless occurred."
If the chimps are only doing this out of self-interest, exactly what that interest is goes beyond what a leading primatologist can imagine.
Does morality come from within us?
What, then, can be said of animal morality? Like many of our primate and mammalian relatives, we have evolved a sense of moral understanding, with the capacity for altruism and a focus on reciprocity being part of this complex phenomenon. Interestingly, though acts of altruism have been documented in other animals, it is notable that humans are far more altruistic than any other species.
Understanding our evolutionary history, therefore, may allow us to better grasp how we forge moral codes in our societies. As Dr. de Waal put it in a previous interview with Big Think:
"Our current religions are just 2,000 or 3,000 years old, which is very young. And our species is much older and I cannot imagine that, for example, a hundred thousand years or two hundred thousand years our ancestors did not have some type of morality. Of course they had rules about how you should behave, what is fair, what is unfair, caring for others — all of these tendencies were in place already so they had a moral system and then at some point we developed these present day religions which I think were sort of tacked on to the morality that we had. And maybe they served to codify them or to enforce them or to steer morality in a particular direction that we prefer.
So religion comes in for me secondarily. I'm struggling with whether we need religion. So personally I think we can be moral without religion because we probably had morality long before the current religions came along."
Dr. de Waal has suggested in several of his books that our morality comes from within us, driven by our primate tendencies rather than externally as with religion. Luckily, Dr. de Waal's research suggests that the morality of our evolutionary relatives include elements of "fairness, empathy, caring for others, helping others, following rules, [and] punishing individuals who don't follow the rules."
If he is right, then perhaps we all could use a little more animal morality in our lives.