If you’ve ever wanted to know whether another person is trustworthy, just ask a dog.
Dogs and humans have co-evolved for 32,000 years – and dogs have an innate ability to read their human companions. Dogs’ gaze following is tuned in to human communicative signals – and they seem to understand what it means when a human points to something.
Our canine companions are receptive to the different tones of human voices and they’re also capable of detecting different emotions in humans, discerning the difference between faces that are angry, happy, jealous, or sad.
So it should come as no surprise to those of us who share our lives with dogs that they’re good at gauging whether people are “trustworthy.”
BBC Earth reported this week that dogs will stop following a person’s cues if they deem that person to be “unreliable.”
In a study recently published in Animal Cognition, Japanese researched tested 34 dogs over the course of three trials of pointing tests. During all conditions, one experimenter pointed to an area that did or did not have food.
During the first trial, experimenters were “honest”: they truthfully pointed to the location of a hidden food. During the second trial, though, the pointed to an empty container that didn’t contain any food. And during the third and final trial, the experimenter then pointed to a container that did contain food.
But on the third trial, the dogs were unresponsive to the experimenter’s cue – they had already learned that this person had steered them in the wrong direction once previously. According to the study’s principal investigator, Akiko Takaoka of Kyoto University, this is evidence of dogs assessing whether the experimenter was trustworthy.
Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans.”
According to scientist Brian Hare, dogs have an innate ability to sense dishonesty in humans. Hare stated:
[Dogs] evaluate the information we give them based in part on how reliable it is in helping them accomplish their goals. Many family dogs, for instance, will ignore your gesture when you point incorrectly and use their memory to find a hidden treat.”
With their unique evolutionary histories and social cognitive skills, dogs are particularly adept at discerning who can be relied upon – and who can’t. So the next time you’re wondering if someone is a trustworthy individual, just look to your dog.
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