Dogs and Toddlers Show Equal Social Intelligence
28 February, 2017
dogs and toddlers

Our dogs are an integral part of our family.  We love them like our children and now new research shows that dogs may be even more like us than we had previously considered.  In fact, a new study suggests that two year old children and dogs show similar patterns of social intelligence even more so than children and chimps.

The study looked at how two-year olds, dogs and chimpanzees performed a variety of cognitive tests

Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona and his colleagues looked at how two-year-old children, dogs and chimpanzees performed on comparable tests designed to measure various types of cognition. While chimps performed well on tests involving their physical environment and spatial reasoning, they did not do as well when it came to tests of cooperative communication skills like the ability to follow a pointing finger or human gaze.

The dogs and children outperformed chimps on cooperative communication skills

Dogs and children also outperformed chimps on cooperative communication tasks, and researchers observed similar patterns of variation in performance between individual dogs and between individual children.

“A growing body of research in the last decade has looked at what makes human psychology special, and scientists have said that the basic social communication skills that begin to develop around 9 months are what first seem to set humans apart from other species”, said MacLean, assistant professor in the School of Anthropology in the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The research suggests that dogs and children can be good at almost all social tests but not chimps

The research showed that you don’t find the same social skills in chimpanzees, but you do find them in dogs, which suggested similarities between dogs and kids. The bigger, deeper question they wanted to explore is if that really is a superficial similarity or if there is a distinct kind of social intelligence that we see in both species.   And they found that dogs who are good at one of these social things tend to be good at lots of the related social things and with kids, but not chimpanzees.

Dogs and humans might have evolved under pressure that favors cooperative social behavior

One explanation for the similarities between dogs and humans is that the two may have evolved under pressure that favored benefits and rewards for more cooperative social behavior.  The study believes that dogs and humans probably evolved some of these skills as a result of similar evolutionary processes.  Therefore, by studying dogs and their domestication, they think they can learn something more about human evolution.  And, eventually, see how evolution might even affect human social disabilities.

Who would have thought that dogs are closer to our evolutionary history than chimps!

Source: Alexis Blue – University of Arizona


Evan L. MacLean et al, Individual differences in cooperative communicative skills are more similar between dogs and humans than chimpanzees, Animal Behaviour (2017).

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