Tag: Kyoto University

The way dogs think

They are incredibly intuitive but not in such a broad way as us humans.

On Friday morning Oliver got lifted up onto the bed. It’s a daily routine and one that Jeannie and I love.

Oliver – He has magnificent eyes.

On this particular early morning I decided to switch the lamp off next to me and snuggle under the covers for a bit more shuteye. At the moment the light went out Oliver moved from his regular position somewhere over my knees to the bottom of the bed in between me and Jean. He has never done that before.

Of all our dogs Oliver is the one that seems to sense what is happening. That is not to say that the other dogs are dumb, far from it, but that Oliver is extra intuitive.

So that’s why this from Science magazine is being republished today. Because it is right on the money, so to speak.

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Dogs Know When You’re Lying to Them

By the BEC Crew, 25th February, 2015

We all know that dogs can sense our emotions, whether happy, sad or angry, but now researchers have found that they can also tell when you’re lying, and will stop following the cues of someone they deem untrustworthy.

Researchers led by Akiko Takaoka from Kyoto University in Japan figured this out by using the old ‘point and fetch’ trick – a human points at the location of something, like a ball, a stick, or some food, and the dog runs off to find it. They wanted to figure out if dogs were just blindly following these cues, or if they were adjusting their behaviour based on how reliable they perceived the person giving the cues to be. And if they didn’t perceive this person as being reliable, how quickly would they learn to mistrust and disobey the humans who pointed in the wrong direction?

Working with 34 dogs, the team went through three rounds of pointing. The first round involved truthfully pointing out to the dogs where their treats and toys were hidden in a container. In the second round, after showing the dogs what’s in the container, they pointed out the location again, but this time, it was a trick – the container was empty. In the third round, the team pointed to the location of the box, which was filled with treats again.

They found that the dogs were following the age-old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” because by round three, many of them were done believing the actions of the pointing volunteers.

A second experiment was performed in exactly the same way as the first one, except the person was replaced by an entirely new one. The dogs happily started the process all over again, and were fully open to trusting their new ‘friend’. “That suggests, says Takaoka, that the dogs could use their experience of the experimenter to assess whether they were a reliable guide,” Melissa Hogenboom writes for BBC News. “After these rounds, a new experimenter replicated the first round. Once again, the dogs followed this new person with interest.”

What’s going on here, the researchers report in the journal Animal Cognition, is that the dogs were ‘devaluing’ the reliability of the human when they experienced their lies. “Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought,” Takaoka told Hogenboom. “This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans.” 

The experiment reaffirms what we know about the nature of dogs – they love routine, but they also love new things. In round one, they learnt how the activity goes: the human points, I sniff out something great. But in round two, the rules changed and the dogs became stressed out. But when round three came along, the human who broke the rules was replaced by a different human, and the dogs were happy to trust this one because of their love of trying new things.

“Dogs are very sensitive to human behaviour but they have fewer preconceptions,” Bradshaw told the BBC. “They live in the present, they don’t reflect back on the past in an abstract way, or plan for the future.” And they certainly don’t approach a situation by “thinking deeply about what that entails”, he said. 

Something to think about when you consider inflicting the ‘fake tennis ball’ game on your dog. It might work a few times for hilarious effect, because your dog trusts you way more than the dogs in the experiment trusted the strangers they just met, but how long will it last?

It also explains why dogs are so unsure about magicians:

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So to all the dogs in the world I say this: “Keep on trusting us humans!” And to the millions of dog owners in the world, I say this: “Never lie, especially to a dog!”

These extraordinary minds of ours.

Serendipity at work.

Chapter 8 of my book is entitled: Behaviours and Relationships. It opens thus:

“It is all to do with relationships.”

I heard this many years before the idea of writing this book came to me. Heard it from J, who was referred to in the previous chapter. J was speaking of what makes for happy people in all walks of life. It’s one of those remarks that initially comes over as such an obvious statement, akin to water being wet or the night being dark, that it is easy to miss the incredible depth of meaning behind those seven words.

Humans are fascinating. Every aspect of who we are can be seen in our relationships. How we relate to people around us, whether it be a thirty-second exchange with a stranger or a long natter with friends whom we have known for decades, including our partners and family relations. The core relationship, of course, the relationship that drives so many of our behaviours is the relationship that we have with ourself. That being rooted in our relationship experiences with the adults around us when we were young people.

When one looks at the performance of successful companies one often sees, nay one always sees, people being valued. The directors and managers of those companies understand that if people are valued then a myriad of benefits flow from that approach to relationships. Moving out of the workplace, the relationships that people have are always stronger and happier if those individual persons know they are valued. Moving beyond people, our dogs, and many other animals, are always stronger and happier if they feel valued. It’s the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Recently over on Mother Nature Network there was an essay presented by Russell McLendon who is science editor for MNN. It is about happiness.

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Happiness is all in your head

Scientists say they’ve found where happiness happens in the brain. What does that mean?

By: Russell McLendon, November 24, 2015

Understanding how our brains generate happiness could help make it less elusive, researchers say. (Photo: Andrew Vargas/Flickr)
Understanding how our brains generate happiness could help make it less elusive, researchers say. (Photo: Andrew Vargas/Flickr)

Everyone wants to be happy. Yet despite all our efforts in pursuit of this prized emotion, it can be a surprisingly nebulous goal. What is “happiness,” exactly?

That question has puzzled philosophers for thousands of years, and it’s still tricky for anyone to tackle. But recent advances in neuroscience have finally begun to shed light on it, and now a new study claims to have found an answer. Being told happiness is “all in your head” may seem both obvious and dismissive, but in this case the specifics are also empowering. The more we know about how (and where) happiness happens, the less helpless we’ll be to summon it when we need it.

By comparing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with questionnaires about emotional states, researchers from Kyoto University in Japan say they’ve traced the experience of happiness to a specific part of the human brain. Overall happiness, they conclude, occurs when positive emotions combine with a sense of life satisfaction in the precuneus, a region of the medial parietal lobe that’s linked to important brain tasks like episodic memory, self-reflection and consciousness.

Psychologists already distinguish between broad life satisfaction and “subjective well-being,” since happiness often seems to fade during bad moods without necessarily plunging us into deeper existential despair. But by revealing the neural mechanics of how these feelings combine to create overall happiness, the authors of the new study hope to make it easier to objectively quantify this mysterious and elusive emotion.

“Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is,” lead author Wataru Sato says in a press release. “I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.”

Scientists used MRI brain scans to identify happiness in a brain region known as the precuneus. (Photo: Kyoto University)
Scientists used MRI brain scans to identify happiness in a brain region known as the precuneus. (Photo: Kyoto University)

To pinpoint the location of happiness, Sato and his colleagues first used MRI to scan the brains of their study subjects. Those participants then took a survey, which asked about their general sense of happiness, the intensity of their emotions and the degree of their overall life satisfaction.

After analyzing the data, the researchers discovered that those who scored higher on the happiness survey also had more gray matter mass in the precuneus. That means this brain region is larger in people who feel happiness more intensely, feel sadness less intensely and who are better able to find meaning in life.

“To our knowledge, our study is the first to show that the precuneus is associated with subjective happiness,” the researchers write in the journal Scientific Reports.

Complex phenomena like happiness rarely boil down to a single brain region, but other recent research also points to an outsized role for the precuneus. A study published this month links impaired connectivity in the precuneus to depression, for example, and a 2014 study suggests the region is a “distinct hub” in the brain’s default-mode network, which is active during self-reflection and daydreaming.

All this may seem like an esoteric quest for neuroscientists, but it’s about more than just academic curiosity. By knowing which parts of the human brain generate our sensation of happiness, we might develop more accurate ways to test methods of becoming happier, like travel, exercise or meditation.

“Several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus,” Sato says. “This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research.”

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It’s an unscientific opinion from me but I truly believe that humans have a bias towards happiness. And if there’s one animal that we can learn happiness from, it’s the dog!

Photo: Kiuko/flickr.
Photo: Kiuko/flickr.