Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Mindreading in a Dog: An Adaptation of a Primate 'Mental Attribution' Study

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Mindreading in a Dog: An Adaptation of a Primate 'Mental Attribution' Study

Article excerpt

In a recent paper Hare et al (2000) state that "It is a focal point of primate cognition what individuals know about each other's psychological processes". Recently this issue attracted the interest of researchers, which was initiated by Premack and Woodruff (1978) who introduced the concept of "mindreading" in the case of chimpanzees. The hypothesis of theory of mind (e.g. Byrne & Whiten 1988) assumes that individuals are able to represent others' mental state(s) and use this information to modify their own behaviour. Interestingly, the hypothesis of theory of mind was very successful to generate new research questions in developmental psychology (see Ferner et al, 1989) but has led to comparatively little progress in non-humans.

One main role of ethology in the study of animals is to emphasize the ultimate causes of behaviour (Tinbergen 1951). The lack of functional analysis can lead to misunderstandings and wrong hypotheses, especially in comparative behavioural studies. In this vein, we need to investigate those circumstances in which "mind reading" could be adaptive for a species. Unfortunately, Humphrey's (1976) argument (i.e. the appearance of the more sophisticated form of social intelligence throughout the evolution can be explained by the complexity of species' social life) is too general for specific hypotheses to be formed. There is a need for more precise observations on the types of interactions between the members of the group and on how much they serve the interest of the individual and that of the group. In this regard Tomasello and Call (1996) do not see any differences in the social life of Old-World monkeys versus anthropoid apes.

In terms of distribution of resources there may be two types of interactions between the members of the group: the competitive and the cooperative. In case of the competitive interactions individuals attempt to exclude others from attaining resources. In cooperative relationships getting or distributing of resources is the result of joint actions.

Two different experimental paradigms illustrate this distinction well. In order to perform in the task designed by Povinelli and his colleagues (1990) chimpanzees had to understand at least two aspects of social interactions. First, they had to understand the cooperative intend of the observer to share the correct information with the subject, second they had to be able to attribute mental states to humans.

In this task the chimpanzees could witness the action of food hiding (into one of three boxes) but they were prevented from observing the actual location of the hidden food. However, they could see that an "observer" was watching the hiding person who was in the position to obtain information about the actual location of the food. After the hider left both a naïve person (not present during the hiding) and the observer pointed at one of the three boxes. The observer pointed always to the correct box, the naïve person pointed always to an empty box. The chimpanzees had only one choice. The results suggested (Povinelli et al 1990) that the chimpanzees did not recognized that the visual information results in a change in the mental state (i.e. "seeing leads to knowing") and this knowledge could become "visible" in the behaviour.

Although Hare et al's (2000) task had a similar "logical structure" but it was essentially competitive in nature. In this case both a dominant and a submissive chimpanzee witness the hiding of one piece of food, whilst only the submissive one was exposed to the location of the second piece of food. It was assumed that the submissive animal has some awareness of the knowledge of the dominant (having not seen the second baiting) it should choose the food of which the dominant had no information. Chimpanzees showed a strong preference (85% of total 54 trials) for choosing the food that was hidden when only the submissive chimpanzees are allowed to watch. This suggests that in certain situations chimpanzees are able to take into account what their rivals bear in mind. …

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