Yale University is one of the leading research universities in America. Research at Yale has led to breakthroughs in fields such as thermodynamics and medicine while scientists from Yale have conducted famous psychology experiments and even discovered never before seen species of dinosaurs. Now, the Psychology Department at Yale has set up a Canine Cognition Center to study how dogs think.
The Center is “devoted to learning more about canine psychology—how dogs perceive their environment, solve problems, and make decisions.” Every dog owner would love to know more about how their dogs see and navigate the world.
Some of the current research happening at the Canine Cognition Center includes what they call “looking measures.” In these experiments, scientists test dogs’ attention to unexpected events. According to Yale researchers, dogs “will look longer at the display as if they were ‘surprised’—just like a human watching a magic trick.”
Pattern recognition is used constantly by humans and animals alike, but knowing just how much dogs understand about what event should follow the last can provide insights into their cognitive processing power.
Researchers at Yale are also studying social cues to how well dogs recognize what a human means when they make a simple gesture, how dogs make decisions when faced with more than one choice, and they are using touchscreens to teach dogs about cause and effect.
The Center has been in operation since 2013, so they have published some peer-reviewed research. One of their studies had children from ten to thirteen interact with dogs to study the effects on the child’s mental health. They found that “brief, unstructured interactions with dogs boosted children’s positive emotions and reduced anxiety.”
So, if you’re a teenager reading this trying to convince your parents that you should get a puppy: Print out that study! They’ll be so impressed with your precociousness—look it up and use it in a sentence for additional bonus points—that they just might relent.
Yale’s Canine Cognition Center was featured on the PBS show Hacking Your Mind in September of 2020. The clip explains a recent study that analyzed whether dogs or children are more easily fooled by disinformation.
Where a child trusted inaccurate information given to them by an adult, a dog more quickly disregarded it. Ignoring what someone teaches you might be considered rude in humans, but dogs are not as easily pressured into belief because of hierarchies or social ties. Another plus one for dog lovers!
Imagine how much better we could be as dog owners if we knew everything our dogs were thinking and why and how they thought about it the way they do. Well, though the language barrier remains, researchers like the ones at the Yale Canine Cognition Center are doing their best to start us down that path of understanding. However, we are only just beginning.
One grad student studying at Yale, Zachary Silver, explained, “The field of canine cognition is still very young, and there is still a great deal to be learned about how dogs think and view the world.” So it’s worth keeping an eye on the research that comes out of the Canine Cognition Center.
Some of it may help you get to know your dog even better because as Zachary Silver explains, dogs “evolved alongside humans, and that experience likely shaped their ways of thinking about the world.” We have been teaching each other for decades, so kudos to Yale and other universities studying canine cognition because it is beyond time to start learning about one another.
If you want to help out and you live in the New Haven, Connecticut area, your dog can even volunteer!