Dogs are being enlisted in the fight against the novel coronavirus. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are testing a pack of eight Labrador retrievers to find out if their sensitive snouts can detect the pandemic virus by scent, Karin Brulliard reports for the Washington Post.
Humans have trained our canine friends’ finely tuned noses to sniff out other deadly diseases, including malaria, diabetes, some cancers and Parkinson’s disease, reported Ian Tucker for the Guardian in 2018. Other research has shown that viruses give off a particular smell, Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center at UPenn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, tells the Post.
If the dogs’ 300 million scent receptors can be trained to smell the novel coronavirus they could eventually be used in public places such as airports, businesses or hospitals to quickly and easily screen large numbers of people. Because this diagnosis by dog would depend on the smell given off by people infected with COVID-19 it should have no problem picking out asymptomatic carriers.
The yellow, black and chocolate labs will be trained for three weeks using a process called odor imprinting. Miss M., Poncho and six other dogs will be exposed to COVID-19 positive saliva or urine collected from hospitals and then rewarded with food when they pick out the correct samples, according to a statement from UPenn. When the dogs have the scent, they’ll be tested to see if they can pick out COVID-19 positive people.
“We don’t know that this will be the odor of the virus, per se, or the response to the virus, or a combination,” Otto, who is leading the project, tells the Post. “But the dogs don’t care what the odor is. … What they learn is that there’s something different about this sample than there is about that sample.”
Dogs are also being trained for this purpose in the United Kingdom by the charity Medical Detection Dogs in collaboration with Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, reports the BBC.
“This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control,” Steve Lindsay, public health entomologist at Durham University, tells the BBC.
The U.K. trial expects to start collecting COVID-19 positive samples in the coming weeks and will train its dogs shortly thereafter, per the Post. If the trial is successful the group aims to distribute six dogs to be used for screening in U.K. airports.
“Each individual dog can screen up to 250 people per hour,” James Logan, epidemiologist at Durham University and collaborator on the project, tells the Post. “We are simultaneously working on a model to scale it up so it can be deployed in other countries at ports of entry, including airports.”
Otto tells the Post that the trial could inspire an electronic sensor that could detect COVID-19 which might be able to rapidly test thousands of people. But if the dogs’ olfactory prowess can’t be replicated, then the ability to scale up could be limited by another issue: the U.S.’s shortage of detection dogs.
The list of fabulous skills that dogs have and their ability to help us humans out is practically endless.
To be more to the point, if dogs really can make a difference in determining who has got COVID-19, especially at airports, then this is a step to eventually returning to a more open and normal lifestyle.
Put another way, dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. What does that mean in terms we might understand? Well, in her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth. Another dog scientist likened their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels.
There is so much about dogs in general to be amazed at.
But the nose is something to really marvel at.
There are many sources of information about how incredible is the dog’s nose. For example, I am looking at the page on The Dogington Post that speaks of the dog’s nose.
Nature has provided dogs with a nearly perfect sense of smell. If you have a dog, you probably already know that your dog will smell something long before you can. In fact, the average dog has over 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses (compared to a relatively tiny six million for humans). That means, your dog’s sense of smell is over fifty times greater than your own!
April 1, 2019
Service dogs can offer vital assistance to those who suffer from epilepsy, helping to prevent injury and signal for help when a seizure episode occurs. Whether dogs can detect seizures before they happen is another, more complicated question; anecdotal reports suggests that they can, but the evidence is inconclusive, and it hasn’t been clear what signals might trigger dogs to anticipate an oncoming seziure. But as Megan Schmidt reports for Discover, a small and intriguing new study suggests that people with epilepsy emit a specific odor when they are having seizures—and dogs can be trained to detect it.The study’s very good subjects were five service dogs from Medical Mutts in Indianapolis, trained to respond to the bodily odors of people with diabetes, anxiety and epilepsy. To test the dogs’ seizure-detecting abilities, researchers recruited five patients with different types of epilepsy to collect sweat samples at various intervals: either during or right after a seizure, after moderate exercise and at random points in the day during calm activity. Seven samples from each patient were then placed in opaque cans, which the dogs were given a chance to sniff. Each dog underwent nine trials in total: five of those trials were repeat tests with the odor of one patient, and the rest were conducted with samples from the four remaining patients. The dogs had not been exposed to the patients’ scents prior to the experiment.
The results, the study authors write in Scientific Reports “were very clear: all dogs discriminated the seizure odor.” Some of the pooches had a better track record than others—the dogs correctly identified the seizure samples between 67 and 100 percent of the time—but all of their performances were “well above” the margins of chance, according to the researchers.
It’s not entirely surprising that dogs have super-powered noses when it comes to detecting human ailments. Our best animal buddies have been used to sniff out diseases like cancer and diabetes “with some success,” the researchers note. The new study, however, not only shows that dogs can smell seizures, but also offers the first known proof that different types of seizures are associated with common scents; the patients, after all, did not all have the same kind of epilepsy.
Granted, the study was small and limited in scope. It suggests that dogs can smell seizures as they happen, but the verdict is still out on whether the animals can detect seizures that are about to happen. Further research is also needed to determine precisely what bodily chemicals the dogs are smelling in the sweat of epileptic patients. But “[a]s far as implications go, the results are very exciting,” Tim Edwards, a behavioral analyst and senior lecturer at New Zealand’s University of Waikato, who was not involved in the study, tells Scientific American’s Emily Willingham. Perhaps understanding how dogs detect seizures can help pave the way for artificial intelligence technology that is able to do the same.
Additionally, the study authors maintain that their findings dispel the “belief that epilepsy and seizure types were too individual-specific for a general cue to be found.” And this, the researchers say, offers “hope” that people with epilepsy can be warned of oncoming seizures by their furry, faithful friends.
Wouldn’t that be fabulous! That people with epilepsy could be warned of oncoming seizures. All as a result of a dog’s keen, very keen, sense of smell.
At-home DNA kits have become a popular way to learn more about one’s ancestry and genetic makeup—and the handy tests aren’t just for humans, either. Dog owners who want to delve into their fluffy friends’ family history and uncover the risks of possible diseases can choose from a number of services that screen doggie DNA.
As Kitson Jazynka reports for National Geographic, one of these services, Embark Veterinary, Inc., recently analyzed user data to unlock an enduring canine mystery: How did Siberian huskies get their brilliant blue eyes?
Piercing peepers are a defining trait of this beautiful doggo. According to the new study, published in PLOS Genetics, breeders report that blue eyes are a common and dominant trait among Siberian huskies, but appear to be rare and recessive in other breeds, like Pembroke Welsh corgis, old English sheepdogs and border collies. In some breeds, like Australian shepherds, blue eyes have been linked to patchy coat patterns known as “merle” and “piebald,” which are caused by certain genetic mutations. But it was not clear why other dogs—chief among them the Siberian husky—frequently wind up with blue eyes.
Hoping to crack this genetic conundrum, researchers at Embark studied the DNA of more than 6,000 pooches, whose owners had taken their dogs’ saliva samples and submitted them to the company for testing. The owners also took part in an online survey and uploaded photos of their dogs. According to the study authors, their research marked “the first consumer genomics study ever conducted in a non-human model and the largest canine genome-wide association study to date.”
The expansive analysis revealed that blue eyes in Siberian huskies appear to be associated with a duplication on what is known as canine chromosome 18, which is located near a gene called ALX4. This gene plays an important role in mammalian eye development, leading the researchers to suspect that the duplication “may alter expression of ALX4, which may lead to repression of genes involved in eye pigmentation,” Aaron Sams of Embark tells Inverse’s Sarah Sloat.
The genetic variation was also linked to blue eyes in non-merle Australian shepherds. Just one copy of the mutated sequence was enough to give dogs either two blue eyes, or one blue and one brown eye, a phenomenon known as “heterochromia.” It would seem, however, that duplication on chromosome 18 is not the only factor influencing blue eye color: Some dogs that had the mutation did not have blue eyes.
More research into this topic is needed to understand the genetic mechanisms at work when it comes to blue-eyed dogs. But the study shows how at-home DNA kits can be highly valuable to scientists, providing them with a wealth of genetic samples to study.
“With 6,000 people getting DNA samples from their dogs and mailing them to a centralized location and then filling out a website form detailing all the traits of their dog—that’s a game-changer for how genetics is being done in the 21st century,” Kristopher Irizarry, a geneticist with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences, tells National Geographic’s Jazynka.
The benefits of having access to such huge troves of data go further than uncovering nifty insights into our canine companions. Scientists are also teaming up with at-home DNA test companies to learn more about human genetics and behavior.
There’s such a wide range of information about our lovely dogs!
You may recall that back on the 15th of this month, I posted a Note to Readers that spoke about my need to be focused on the editing of my manuscript. Here’s part of that note:
Dear readers, we are talking hours of revisions that I need, and want, to make.
All of which is my way of saying that if my posts over the next couple of weeks more strongly lean on the republishing of other material then you will understand why. In all cases I will endeavour to republish articles that are likely to interest you, of course!
Late yesterday, I completed the many revisions to the manuscript recommended by Joni Wilson but still have more days of formatting changes ahead.
Thus another republication of an item, this time an article that appeared on the Smithsonian website.
Domestication Seems to Have Made Dogs a Bit Dim
Thanks to their relationship with us, dogs are less adept at solving tricky puzzles than their wolf relatives
By Rachel Nuwer, smithsonian.com, September 15, 2015
Notably, these seemingly smart accomplishments all hinge on the partnership between our two species. Now, however, tests of canine problem-solving skills indicate that dogs rely on humans so much that we actually seem to be dumbing them down.
Most studies that investigate dog intelligence assume that certain interactions with humans are indicative of higher cognitive function. In one experiment, for example, dogs and human-socialized wolves were presented with a canine version of the Kobayashi Maru — an unopenable box that contained food.
When confronted with a difficult task, dogs often turn to us—their human masters—for guidance, indicating their puzzlement with a cock of the head and eyes that seem to implore for help. Indeed, the dogs in the study quickly gave up and simply stared at the nearest human. The wolves, on the other hand, sought out no such help and persisted at trying to solve the impossible puzzle on their own.
Researchers usually interpret such findings as a sign of dogs’ intelligence; the wolves kept trying to win the no-win scenario, while the dogs knew that humans could help out with tasks they themselves could not solve.
But depending on humans for help is not necessarily a cognitive asset, points out Monique Udell, an assistant professor of animal and rangeland sciences at Oregon State University.
If dogs only turn to humans when presented with an impossible task—not a solvable one—then their “look back” behavior would indeed be advantageous. On the other hand, if they simply throw their paws up at the slightest hint of cognitive challenge, then that could indicate “a conditioned inhibition of problem-solving behavior,” as Udell puts it. Like a child whose parents always give away the answers to homework, dogs may be overly reliant on us, she surmised.
To test this hypothesis, Udell presented ten pet dogs and ten human-socialized wolves with a solvable puzzle. Sausage was placed inside a sealed plastic tub with a lid that included a bit of rope. With some paw and mouth finagling, the lid could be opened.
She also included ten shelter dogs in the study, because past research shows that shelter dogs are initially less responsive to humans compared to established pets. These animals acted as a sort of intermediary between hyper-socialized dogs and wolves.
Udell presented the canines with the puzzle box both in the presence of humans—an owner, caretaker or familiar person—and without any person nearby. Each time, the animals had two minutes to figure out how to get at the sausage. Subjects that failed in both trials were given a third and final try in which they also received verbal encouragement from their human friend.
Udell’s findings, reported today in the journalBiology Letters, were telling. In the presence of humans, just one pet dog and none of the shelter dogs managed to open the box. Eight out of ten of the wolves, however, succeeded in enjoying the sausage treat inside.
Wolves also spent more time chipping away at the problem and more time staring at the box, as if working out how to open it. Both pet and shelter dogs, on the other hand, did the opposite—they gave up more quickly and stared at humans instead of the box, seemingly asking for help.
When humans were not around, the findings were similar—nearly all of the wolves figured out how to open the box, while just one shelter dog and no pet dogs succeeded. In the third and final trial, dogs that had failed in both of the prior tests performed a bit better when humans encouraged them.
With some human cheerleading, four of nine shelter animals and one of eight pet dogs opened the box, and all spent more time trying to open the box and looking at the box than they did when they were either alone or when their human friends remained silent.
Udell’s results indicate that dogs do seem to be overly dependent on us compared to their wild relatives, although the cause of this—whether biological, environmental or both—still needs to be worked out.
Lucky for pet pooches, however, we humans will no doubt always be there to help them navigate all of life’s tricky plastic containers.
Have a dog or two in the house? Hide your feelings then!
I have previously remarked on how quickly our dogs pick up on key words and phrases spoken by either Jean or me. In my case, long before I met Jean when I was living in Devon with Pharaoh, I quickly learnt that voicing the word ‘walk’ caused an eruption of interest from his nibs. Then I foiled his intelligence by spelling the word out: w-a-l-k. That lasted all of a fortnight (or two weeks in American speak) before Pharaoh knitted the letters into that walk word.
Here in Oregon our living-room/bedroom group of dogs (Pharaoh, Hazel, Cleo, Sweeney and Oliver) pick up on so many human comments, sayings, and behaviours that at times it feels as though Jean and I need to go somewhere private in order to discuss anything that affects our lovely dogs.
Facial expressions are a key asset in our arsenal of communication methods. Without saying a word, we can alert those around us to our emotional state—ranging from elation to sorrow—simply by flexing a few muscles. Such expressions have evolved to help us connect with one another, avoid danger and work together.
Fellow humans, however, are not the only ones potentially tuning in to the information our expressions convey. According to the results of a study published today in Current Biology, dogs have hacked this silent method of communication, at least enough to distinguish between angry and happy facial expressions.
Dogs and humans share a tight evolutionary bond, which is why veterinarian researchers from the University of Vienna decided to focus on these two species for their study. Dogs are already known to be whizzes at reading us. For instance, they can discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar faces even if just part of the face is shown in a photograph. Whether they actually recognize emotions, however, had not been conclusively investigated before.
It would be wrong to republish the full article without permission but I do want to share another photograph from the article and the closing paragraphs.
Before the authors delve into the greater animal kingdom, though, they plan to further explore their canine findings. Experiments with puppies could lend insight into whether facial expression recognition is something dogs learn over their lives or if it’s something more innate. And trials with wolves could indicate whether human breeders bestowed emotion recognition in their canine companions via artificial selection, or whether that trait was something dogs’ ancient relatives developed on their own simply by living in the vicinity of humans.
While the initial controlled laboratory findings don’t prove that your dog is watching your every facial move for clues about how you are feeling, they do open up the possibility that dogs are even more empathetic best friends than we thought.
Many of you who have dogs in your lives will intuitively know this to be true. But having the scientific underpinning is wonderful confirmation of that truth.
I’m sure I am not alone in having a dog come up to me and lick the tears off my face.
What incredible loving and trusting relationships we have with our dogs.
To underline my last sentence, on a whim I just took the following photograph of Hazel who very rarely isn’t by my side.
It is said that the first casualty in war is truth!
In yesterday’s post Vested interests, perhaps, I featured an article brought to my attention by dear friend, Dan Gomez. Namely an article featured in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper that was headlined: ‘There is NO climate crisis’: Man-made global warming is a lie and not backed up by science, claims leading meteorologist.
Dan’s strong belief is that labelling the natural change in the world’s climate as anthropogenic global warming (AGW) serves governments and many large institutions incredibly well because it offers greater leverage to raise taxes. In other words, Dan has no doubt that the climate is changing, but as a result of natural forces that go back long before the days of man. In other words, it is being ‘sold’ as the direct result of man’s activities because it makes it easier to apply taxes and levies for purposes not related to climate matters.
As John Coleman was reported as saying:
John Coleman, who co-founded the Weather Channel, claims that the belief humans are causing climate change is not backed up by science.
In an open letter attacking the UN, the 80-year-old from San Diego, said that what ‘little evidence’ there is for global warming points to natural cycles in temperature.
‘There is no climate crisis,’ he wrote. ‘The ocean is not rising significantly. The polar ice is increasing, not melting away. Polar bears are increasing in number. ‘Heat waves have actually diminished, not increased. There is not an uptick in the number or strength of storms.
‘I have studied this topic seriously for years. It has become a political and environment agenda item, but the science is not valid.’
Now I am as sceptical about the workings of governments as the next man. But I find it incredibly difficult to believe that AGW is a myth, hoax or conspiracy. There is a wall of science to say that we, as in man, are dangerously close to going over the edge, going beyond ‘tipping points’ from which there is no returning.
A quick dip into Wikipedia tells us [my emphasis]:
Scientific understanding of the cause of global warming has been increasing. In its fourth assessment (AR4 2007) of the relevant scientific literature, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that scientists were more than 90% certain that most of global warming was being caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities. In 2010 that finding was recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations.
Affirming these findings in 2013, the IPCC stated that the largest driver of global warming is carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and land use changes such as deforestation.
Only last Wednesday there was an item on Naked Capitalism that opened [again, my emphasis]:
J.D. Alt: Have We Passed the Tipping Point of Biological Collapse?
The squiggle illustrated here may look like the Ebola virus, but it isn’t. The resemblance is just an eerie coincidence. It’s actually a graphical snapshot of the classic “Predator-Prey Model.” This mathematical exercise, first developed in the 1920s, serves as the introductory basis for a more recent NASA funded effort which produced—amidst a brief flurry of news and commentary last spring—the startling conclusion that a complete collapse of modern civilization may now be “irreversible.”
The NASA study involved the creation and running of a more elaborate model—HANDY (Human and Nature Dynamics)—which simulates the human consumption of naturally replenishing systems, as well as (intriguingly, given today’s news cycle) wealth and income inequality between two classes of citizens: “Elites” and “Commoners.” Now a new study, just released by the World Wildlife Fund, reports a grim statistic suggesting the abstract mathematics of the HANDY Model may be more than just a theoretical exercise. According to the WWF, in the last forty years—from 1970 to 2010—the Earth has lost over HALF (52%) of its wildlife population.
There are yards and yards of solid information all over the internet about our changing climate. The loss of wildlife, the destruction of forests and wild lands is beyond argument, and those aspects of this ‘modern’ world are most certainly the direct result of man’s activities! Our inability to stop growing as a global population is insane. Our inability to stop seeing continual economic and material growth as a ‘good thing’ is insane. We need massive change – now!
Therein lays the problem. Because, whether or not there is an approaching climate catastrophe as a result of man’s activities is, in a very real sense, irrelevant. If that seems a bizarre thing to write, I mean it is irrelevant in terms of what you and I, ordinary people trying to lead civilised lives, can do to make a difference.
Patrice Ayme recently published a post under the title of Total Plutocracy covering the death of Christophe de Margerie when his jet hit a snow plough on a Moscow runway at midnight, flipped on its back, caught fire, and skidded across. All four on board died.
Now the accidental death of any person is a tragedy, make no mistake, but as Patrice revealed in his post, this particular accident did raise some interesting aspects. Here’s a little of what Patrice wrote:
With 200 billion Euros in revenue, TOTAL SA is not far behind the French government budget. TOTAL’s profits are 14 billion Euros (“Soyons serieux!” laughed Margerie). It pays nearly no tax in France, having concentrated there its money losing refineries.
Other countries get nearly all their fuel from French refineries; TOTAL has also a green light to frack in Britain. So this is not just a French situation. TOTAL is one of the five great oil companies concentrating the fossil fuel firepower. Those companies have the best technology. Some of TOTAL’s specialties are very deep water drilling, and using steam to extract tar oil in Canada.
What was de Margerie doing at midnight? Flying back to France, after meeting with Putin and Medvedev, late at night.
That’s how these guys are: great fun. Putin was recently invited to Milan for a big time European meeting. He arrived several hours late to visit with Merkel, who was not amused. After keeping her up past midnight, he motored to Berlusconi’s mansion, and the two plutocrats reveled together until 4 am. (We don’t know how many female teenagers were in attendance to further their studies.)
The next European meeting was at 8am, and Putin showed up.
Supposedly Margerie had just told Medvedev and Putin to cool it with Ukraine. At least that’s the massaging message Margerie’s minions floated after his death.
Why was Margerie so important to the Russian dictators? Because the six “supermajor” oil companies have the advanced technology. After all, they recruit from the best universities in the world (that’s paid by taxpayers). TOTAL SA was the spearhead of high tech development for hydrocarbon production in Russia. Among other things, it’s helping to build a gas liquefaction plant in the far north, to load special ships with methane (something TOTAL does with Qatar, in the world’s largest such installation).
Once a ship is fully loaded, it has several times the explosive power deployed at Hiroshima (such a catastrophic accident has not happened yet, but it’s just a matter of time).
When citizen Lambda dies, Mr. Anybody, nobody official cares. When a major plutocrat dies, our leaders, even our socialist leaders, weep, and present the accident as a national, even international tragedy.
Is the death of a plutocrat worth that much more, that all this public weeping has to occur?
And, by the way, who and what has authorized Mr. Margerie to lead his own foreign policy? Who authorized him to make nice with thermonuclear dictators? To the point of allowing their survival?
I recommend that you read it in full for it says so much about what is wrong with these present times: so much inequality and so many abuses of power.
Just the other day the Guardian newspaper published an article under the title of: Richest 1% of people own nearly half of global wealth, says report.
The richest 1% of the world’s population are getting wealthier, owning more than 48% of global wealth, according to a report published on Tuesday which warned growing inequality could be a trigger for recession.
According to the Credit Suisse global wealth report (pdf), a person needs just $3,650 – including the value of equity in their home – to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, more than $77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and $798,000 to belong to the top 1%.
“Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets,” said the annual report, now in its fifth year.
On October 8th, George Monbiot published an essay in The Guardian newspaper under the title of The Toll-Booth Economy. The opening lines set the theme.
Corporate power is the real enemy within, but none of the major parties will confront it.
The more power you possess, the more insecure you feel. The paranoia of power drives people towards absolutism. But far from curing them of the conviction that they are threatened and beleaguered, it becomes only stronger.
On Friday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, claimed that business is under political attack on a scale it has not faced since the fall of the Berlin wall. He was speaking at the Institute of Directors, where he was introduced with the claim that “we are in a generational struggle to defend the principles of the free market against people who want to undermine it or strip it away.” A few days before, while introducing Osborne at the Conservative party conference, Digby Jones, formerly the head of the Confederation of British Industry, warned that companies are at risk of being killed by “regulation from Big Government” and of drowning “in the mire of anti-business mood music encouraged by vote-seekers.” Where is that government and who are these vote-seekers? They are a figment of his imagination.
Indeed, I will. Go on with just one more reference. From the Smithsonian. An article that started, as follows:
Five Conflicts and Collapses That May Have Been Spurred by Climate Change
Earth’s changing climate has been a spectre in centuries of civil conflict and, at times, the collapse of whole civilizations
By Natasha Geiling
October 20, 2014
Is climate change a matter of national security? In a warming world, sea-level rise, drought and soil degradation are putting basic human needs such as food and shelter at risk. In March, the U.S. Department of Defense called climate change a “threat multiplier,” saying that competition for resources “will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”
Connecting climate change to a global increase in violence is tricky, and attempts to make such a link receive a fair amount of criticism. A hotter planet doesn’t automatically become a more conflict-ridden one. The 2000s, for instance, saw some of the highest global temperatures in recorded history—and some of the lowest rates of civil conflict since the 1970s.
But there are historical examples of civilizations that did not fare well when faced with drastic environmental change, and those examples may offer a window into the future—and even help prevent catastrophe. “We can never know with 100-percent certainty that the climate was the decisive factor [in a conflict],” says Solomon Hsiang, assistant professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “But there’s a lot of cases where things look pretty conspicuous.”
Earlier on I ventured the idea that whether or not an approaching climate catastrophe was a result of man’s activities was, in a very real sense, irrelevant. Because of the lack of individual power to make a real difference, especially a political difference.
What is relevant is improving the way we govern ourselves. The abuses of money and power are too widespread to be ignored. We need to start with strong local democracies and thence building a system of global governance that really is of the people by the people for the people.
In my research for that post, I came across another Smithsonian article regarding the contagious nature of yawning in dogs. I wanted to republish that here as a follow-up to the yawning in wolves piece.
Dogs Yawn Contagiously Too
Like humans, dogs are prone to yawning when they see someone else do it—and a new study shows that they yawn most frequently in response to their owner.
And now, in one of the most groundbreaking scientific discoveries of the decade—and perhaps even the century—researchers from the University of Tokyo have discovered that, like humans, dogs yawn contagiously.
Okay, we kid. But in all seriousness, the finding does shed a bit of light on that most mysterious of behaviors, the yawn. Despite years of research, scientists still don’t understand why we do it in the first place. Most believe we yawn to help cool down when our brains are overheated. The fact that yawning is contagious in 60 to 70 percent of people, many argue, is a function of empathy, as people who score higher on empathy tests are more likely to experience contagious yawning.
In the new study, published today [Ed. August 7th, 2013] in PLOS ONE, the researchers found that more than half the dogs they tested yawned contagiously—and, most interesting, they were more likely to yawn after watching their owner yawn than seeing it done by an unfamiliar human. If empathy truly is at the heart of contagious yawning, these findings could suggest that canines, too, are capable of true empathy.
This isn’t the first study to show that dogs yawn contagiously, but it is the first to get the dogs’ owners involved. The researchers visited the homes of 25 dogs from different breeds (ranging from golden retrievers to labs to chihuahuas) and had their owners sit in front of them, call their name, and then yawn. For a control, they also had their owners simply open and close their mouths, without a yawn’s characteristic jaw-stretching, deep inhalation or long sigh. As a comparison, they also had people that the dogs had never met before perform both actions. (Incidentally, the paper is vague on how they got the owners and strangers to yawn—although, as you might have discovered since starting this post, simply reading about yawning might have done the trick.)
In total, the 25 dogs yawned 22 times after seeing people yawn, and just 5 times after seeing people open and close their mouths. They were nearly three times more likely to yawn contagiously after seeing their owner yawn as compared to seeing a random person do it. This last finding, they say, provides further evidence for the role of empathy in yawning, as dogs are presumably more likely to empathize with their owners than another person.
Why would empathy be the explanation for why yawns are contagious? As social animals, humans often inadvertently copy the emotions and behaviors of those around them, whether it’s a smile or a frown.
Yawns, presumably, are no exception. And if the underlying function of yawning is to dissipate heat and cool the brain down, mimicking the yawns of others would make a lot of sense. “If I see a yawn, that might automatically cue an instinctual behavior that if so-and-so’s brain is heating up, that means I’m in close enough vicinity, I may need to regulate my neural processes too,” Steven Platek, a psychology professor at Georgia Gwinnett College, told my colleague Marina Koren in her recent post on the science of yawning.
Other work has found that chimpanzees yawn contagiously. That research, along with the new finding, suggests that to some extent, chimps and dogs operate based on the same sorts of social cues as we do.
What more can I add!
Especially with a yawn coming up! (A younger version of me, you do understand!)
The human eye needs the stimulation of sunlight and the outdoors to develop properly. The BBC [Ed: Massive rise in Asian eye damage] reports that a recent study of students in South Asian cities found 90% of the samples were short-sighted, a condition called myopia that needs glasses. Modern South Asian students spend a large part of their lives indoors studying or involved with electronic technology such as the internet. Young children in the UK are rapidly getting myopia as young as three because of being indoors and on computers for long periods of time according to the Daily Mail.
That got me thinking about both the ‘old’ and ‘new’ styles of social bonding. In defence of our digital world, there is no question that social media programs (apps?) such as Facebook, Linked-In and Twitter are incredible means of communicating with people that one doesn’t know directly. Even the funny old world of blogging delivers that. I would have stopped writing for Learning from Dogs years ago if it weren’t for the many ‘friends’ that have been made across the ‘blogosphere’!
But (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you!), social intimacy, as in being able to rub shoulders with people, is the vital core to how we ‘wear’ the world around us.
That was brought home to me by a recent article on the Smithsonian website, an article that I am taking the liberty of republishing in this place. The article is about the contagious nature of yawning; not just for us humans but for wolves.
Note: there were many links to other content in the article making it almost impossible to replicate. So please go to the original to follow up those links.
Yawning Spreads Like a Plague in Wolves
Evidence of contagious yawning in chimps, dogs and now wolves suggests that the behavior is linked to a mammalian sense of empathy
Chimps do it, birds do it, even you and I do it. Once you see someone yawn, you are compelled to do the same. Now it seems that wolves can be added to the list of animals known to spread yawns like a contagion.
Among humans, even thinking about yawning can trigger the reflex, leading some to suspect that catching a yawn is linked to our ability to empathize with other humans. For instance, contagious yawning activates the same parts of the brain that govern empathy and social know-how. And some studies have shown that humans with more fine-tuned social skills are more likely to catch a yawn.
Similarly, chimpanzees, baboons and bonobos often yawn when they see other members of their species yawning. Chimps (Pan troglodytes) can catch yawns from humans, even virtual ones, as seen in the video below. At least in primates, contagious yawning seems to require an emotional connection and may function as a demonstration of empathy. Beyond primates, though, the trends are less clear-cut. One study found evidence of contagious yawning in birds but didn’t connect it to empathy. A 2008 study showed that dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) could catch yawns from humans, and another showed that dogs were more likely to catch the yawn of a familiar human rather than a stranger. But efforts to see if dogs catch yawns from each other and to replicate the results with humans have so far had no luck.
Now a study published today in PLOS ONE reports the first evidence of contagious yawning in wolves (Canis lupus lupus). “We showed that the wolves were able to yawn contagiously, and this is affected by the emotional bond between individuals, which suggests that familiarity and social bonds matter in these animals the same way as it does in humans,” says study co-author Teresa Romero, who studies animal behavior at the University of Tokyo.
The prevalence of contagious yawning in primates and other mammals could give us some clues to the evolution of empathy—that’s in part what makes the phenomenon so interesting and so controversial. If dogs can catch yawns from humans, did they pick up the behavior because of domestication, or does the trait run deeper into evolutionary history?
The Tokyo team took a stab at those questions by looking at contagious yawning in dog’s closest relatives, wolves. For 254 hours over five months, they observed twelve wolves (six males and six females) at the Tama Zoological Park in Tokyo. They kept tabs on the who, what, when, where, how many and how long of every yawn, then separated out data for yawns in relaxed settings, to minimize the influence of external stimuli.
Next, they statistically analyzed the data and looked for trends. They found that wolves were much more likely to yawn in response to another’s yawn rather than not, which suggests that contagious yawning is at play.
Wolves were more likely to catch the yawn if they were friends with the yawner. Females were also quicker on the yawn uptake when watching the yawns of those around them—possibly because they’re more attuned to social cues, but with such a small group it’s hard to say for sure.
The results seem to add to the case for empathy as the primary function of contagious yawning. “We have the strongest responses to our family, then our friends, then acquaintances, and so on and so forth,” says Matt Campbell, a psychologist at California State University, Channel Islands. “That contagious yawning works along the same social dimension supports the idea that the mechanism that allows us to copy the smiles, frowns and fear of others also allows us to copy their yawns.”
Empathy likely originated as an ancestral trait in mammals, and that’s why it emerges in such disparate species as wolves and humans. “More and more research is supporting this idea that basic forms of empathy are very ancient, and they are present in a wide number of species, at least in mammals,” says Romero. Elephants, for example, comfort their upset friends. Even rats exhibit a basic helping behavior toward other friendly rodents.
Why does contagious yawning between members of the same species show up in wolves and not dogs? The difference probably comes down to study design, not biology. “Most likely, dogs also catch yawns from [other dogs], as now shown for wolves,” says Elaine Madsen, a cognitive zoologist at Lund University in Sweden. Further studies might reveal the extent to which human interaction has affected present-day dogs’ susceptibility to catching another species’ yawns, she says.
It’s impossible to say what true function contagious yawning serves in wolves, but the researchers argue that such behavior could cultivate social bonds. “If an individual is not in sync with its group, it risks being left behind. That is not good,” says Campbell. Just watching wolves yawn can’t definitively prove that empathy drove the behavior, but it’s certainly compelling evidence that wolves might feel for their fellow lupines.
Fascinating. As too is an article also on the Smithsonian website about dogs yawning. Going to republish that in a few days.
However, this post was prompted by the reminder that there is no substitute for social bonding with others who we meet physically. That is why the Smithsonian essay seemed such an important reminder. As was written (my emphasis):
Among humans, even thinking about yawning can trigger the reflex, leading some to suspect that catching a yawn is linked to our ability to empathize with other humans. For instance, contagious yawning activates the same parts of the brain that govern empathy and social know-how. And some studies have shown that humans with more fine-tuned social skills are more likely to catch a yawn.
Demonstrating the joy of being really good at what you do!
Before I get to the subject matter, just another word from me about the Posts being published on Learning from Dogs just now. As I mentioned earlier, I’m presently away from home and back in England for as long as it takes to complete all the necessary procedures at the US Embassy in London. All part of me being allowed to become a resident of Payson, Arizona and the husband to my lovely Jeannie.
Anyway, I’m posting items that catch my eye and don’t require the normal amount of time to prepare and write, simply because to have a new Post every day means keeping the pipeline going to cover the times when I shall be in darkest Devon and away from internet coverage! Trust I have your support during this period – I just love seeing so many readers of the Blog!
OK, to the article.
Bob Hoover is well known to many besides pilots because for years he has demonstrated the huge skill in managing the energy of a flying aircraft – with both engines stopped.
Thanks to Peter Kelsey, a Facebook contact, who recently posted a YouTube video of Bob flying his famous display. But more about the man. Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:
Robert A. “Bob” Hoover (born January 24, 1922) is a former air show pilot andUnited States Air Forcetest pilot, known for his wide-brimmed straw hat and wide smile. In aviation circles, he is often referred to as “The pilots’ pilot.”
Bob Hoover learned to fly at Nashville‘s Berry Field while working at a local grocery store to pay for the flight training. He enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard and was sent for pilot training with the Army. He was sent to Casablanca where his first major assignment of the war was test flying the assembled aircraft ready for service. He was later assigned to the Spitfire-equipped 52nd Fighter Group in Sicily. In 1944, on his 59th mission, his malfunctioning Mark V Spitfire was shot down by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 off the coast of Southern France and he was taken prisoner. He spent 16 months at the German prison campStalag Luft 1 in Barth,Germany.
He managed to escape from the prison camp, stole an Fw 190, and flew to safety in the Netherlands. After the war, he was assigned to flight-test duty at Wright Field. There he impressed and befriended Chuck Yeager. Later when Yeager was asked who he wanted for flight crew for the supersonicBell X-1 flight, he named Bob Hoover. Hoover was Yeager’s backup pilot in the Bell X-1 program and flew chase for Yeager in a LockheedP-80 Shooting Star during the Mach 1 flight. He also flew chase for the 50th anniversary in an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
What Bob shows is that true professionalism, in whatever one does, work or play, always comes over as an underplayed, understated skill. Just look at this video for proof of that:
Well over 1,700,000 viewings at the time of writing this Post!
Remember Gordo Cooper in the film “The Right Stuff” poses the question, “Who’s the greatest pilot you ever saw?” Most pilots of all sorts would elect Bob Hoover for that honorable position.
The Smithsonian seem to agree as well. If you can, settle back and watch Bob Hoover’s talk at the 2010 Smithsonian Charles A Lindberg lecture. The video at that link is a long one and Bob doesn’t come on stage until minute 20.
But the flying scenes in the introduction include some historic footage and the talk by Bob Hoover, now nearly 90, is just wonderful. That link also includes the following summary of Bob Hoover:
Robert A. “Bob” Hoover is a fighter, military, and civilian test and air show pilot of legendary proportions. Using his superb piloting skills to fly aircraft to the edge of their performance capabilities, Hoover has left an indelible mark in aviation history. During his Air Force and North American Aviation careers, he flew 58 combat missions (and as a WWII POW flew himself to freedom), served as back-up pilot on the Bell X-1 and tested a wide array of fighter aircraft. As an ambassador of aviation, Hoover flew aerobatic routines in a North American P-51 Mustang, the T-39, and the Aero Commander fleet, culminating in the Shrike Commander 500S, at more than 2,500 civilian and military air shows. Bob Hoover will discuss his career in aviation and some of the pilots he has known including Orville Wright, Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, Jacqueline Cochran, Neil Armstrong, and Yuri Gagarin.