A radical suggestion

How much and what type of our thinking is consciously done? The naïve feeling is that all our thinking is conscious. But we know better and tend to believe that a good deal of our thoughts are created unconsciously. I want to put forward the notion that none of our thoughts are the product of consciousness. Please set aside your disbelief for a short while in order to understand this idea and then you can resume your critical faculties and judge it.

Consciousness is about memory not thought. We cannot remember experiences unless we consciously experienced them. We can only know that we have been unconscious be noticing a discontinuity in our memory. We are probably only forced to have conscious experience of items that have been held in working memory – this has been called type 2 cognition, which always forms a conscious experience and uses working memory. That does not necessarily mean that the type 2 cognition is a product of the mechanism of consciousness.

Memory of experiences has functions. Why would we remember an event? We might find such information useful in future is about the only answer. For example, if we know there is a nasty dog in a particular yard, we may want to notice whether the gate is closed before we pass by. The various places we have experienced and mapped in memory have a lot of information associated with them. That is useful to have ‘on tap’ when we find ourselves in a particular place. ‘Where’ is an important element of the memory of an event. Also ‘when’, ‘who’ and ‘what’ are elements of most events. This information is available from the mechanisms of perception, recognition, navigation etc. We know that the processes that create these elements are not conscious, but the end product is. We also want other pieces of information to form an event to remember and use in recall. We want to know the event’s place in chains of cause and effect, whether it was an important event, what our emotional involvement was, whether it was a surprise or predicted. A very important element has to do with agency. We want to know whether we had any part in causing the event, and if we did was it deliberate or accidental, and whether the outcome was favourable or not. We assume that much of this volition information is created by conscious rather than unconscious mechanisms but experiments put that in doubt. And quite honestly there is no way that we could tell the difference.

Consciousness only needs to contain what is worth remembering but not all may be remembered. We can think of consciousness as the leading edge of memory containing all the information needed for the stable memory. However, we really do need to tell the difference between the ‘now’ and the stored memory of the past. And, although a fairly full description of ‘now’ may be delivered to short-term memory, much of it may be discarded before it reaches a more stable form. Memories are sketchy compared to conscious experience. The conscious stage of memory also has access to the current state of much of the brain. Low-level vision, hearing, feeling etc. can be used by the conscious model of ‘now’ to give it vivid realism – this would not be as easy for older memories.

Of course, these episodic memories are not our only memories and there are memories that are not produced from consciousness. Consciousness may have other functions than memory. All that I am trying to show here is that it is possible that consciousness is not involved in cognition. It may record some aspects if they will be important to remember for the future, but consciousness is not a cognition or thought engine in the brain. It is the engine to assemble experiences to be remembered as experiences.

Resume critical faculties…

Link between image and sound

Babies link the sound of a word with the image of an object in their early learning of language and this is an important ability. How do they come to have this mechanism? Are there predispositions to making links between sounds and images?

Research by Asano and others (citation below) shows one type of link. They show that sound symbolism can be used by infants about to learn language (about 11 months) to match certain pseudo-words to drawings – “moma” to rounded shapes and “kipi” to sharply angled shapes. Sound symbolism is interesting but it need not be the first or most important link between auditory and visual information. It seems to me that a 11 month old child would associate barks with dogs, twitters with bird, honks and engine noises with cars, and so on. They even mimic sounds to identify an object. It is clear that objects are recognized by their feel, smell, and sound as well as by sight. The ability to derive meaning from sound is completely natural, as is deriving it from sight. What is important is not the linking of sound and sight with the same meaning/object – mammals without language have this ability.

What is important about sound symbolism is that it is arbitrary and abstract. We appear to be born with certain connections of phonemes and meanings ready to be used. These sorts of connections would be a great help to a child grasping the nature of language as opposed to natural sounds.

Here is the abstract: “A fundamental question in language development is how infants start to assign meaning to words. Here, using three Electroencephalogram (EEG)-based measures of brain activity, we establish that preverbal 11-month-old infants are sensitive to the non-arbitrary correspondences between language sounds and concepts, that is, to sound symbolism. In each trial, infant participants were presented with a visual stimulus (e.g., a round shape) fol lowed by a novel spoken word that either sound-symbolically matched (“moma”) or mis matched (“kipi”) the shape. Amplitude increase in the gamma band showed perceptual integration of visual and auditory stimuli in the match condition within 300 msec of word onset. Furthermore, phase synchronization between electrodes at around 400 msec revealed intensified large-scale, left-hemispheric communication between brain regions in the mismatch condition as compared to the match condition, indicating heightened processing effort when integration was more demanding. Finally, event-related brain potentials showed an increased adult-like N400 response – an index of semantic integration difficulty – in the mismatch as compared to the match condition. Together, these findings suggest that 11-month-old infants spontaneously map auditory language onto visual experience by recruiting a cross-modal perceptual processing system and a nascent semantic network within the first year of life.

Asano, M., Imai, M., Kita, S., Kitajo, K., Okada, H., & Thierry, G. (2015). Sound symbolism scaffolds language development in preverbal infants Cortex, 63, 196-205 DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2014.08.025

I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope

What is the motive?

It is clear from bacteria to ourselves that cooperation has evolved many times in all sorts of organisms and so it clearly has an advantage that can be realized. However, it is also obvious that simple unquestioned cooperation works if everyone cooperates but would be a great disadvantage once cheaters became numerous. This looks like a paradox – it evolves but why. Cooperation is especially important to humans. You cannot develop our sort of civilization – do neurosurgery or send rockets to the moon or use language – as lone uncooperative individuals.

Two types of cooperation do seem to fit in an evolutionary picture – cooperation between related animals (kin), and reciprocity/trading favours. It is easy to see how these would arise in evolution and be stable. Also (if you accept group selection) groups that were predominately cooperators could out perform groups that were mostly cheaters. Group selection may only work well if the groups are on the small side and then it would be hard to separate this from helping kin and reciprocal relationships. But how does cooperation survive in the large society starting with both cooperators and cheaters?

The Prisoner’s Dilemma game has been used for many years with various modifications (both played by people and by programs) to find the conditions that are needed for cooperation to lose its disadvantages. One of the first fairly successful modifications was ‘tit-for-tat’ in various forms. If someone does not cooperate with you on some occasion then you do not cooperate with them in future. In a population that starts with lots of cooperators and few cheaters, the cheaters will be frozen out of any cooperation and the cooperators will flourish. The models were improved with more ingredients. By itself it is not quite good enough. Another ingredient is punishment of cheaters over and above tit-for-tat. For example cheaters can lose their reputation or in some other way carry a sign that says, “I’m a cheater.” Or a cheater could be directly punished by the individual that was hurt, or by the whole society, or by 3rd party punishers. They can be banished from the group or from participating in particular activities. We humans seem to have a built in joy in cooperating, but also a pleasure in gossip about people who are not worthy, and a need for justice and/or revenge for those that take advantage of our trust.

A recent paper (citation below) by Hoffman and others, examines the idea of examining a person’s motives in deciding whether they are trust worthy. “Why do we trust people more when they do good without considering in detail the cost to themselves? People who avoid “looking” at the costs of good acts can be trusted to cooperate in important situations, whereas those who look cannot. We find that evolutionary dynamics can lead to cooperation without looking at costs. Our results illuminate why we attend closely to people’s motivations for doing good, as prescribed by deontological ethicists such as Kant, and, also, why we admire principled people, adhere to taboos, and fall in love.

Here is the abstract: “Evolutionary game theory typically focuses on actions but ignores motives. Here, we introduce a model that takes into account the motive behind the action. A crucial question is why do we trust people more who cooperate without calculating the costs? We propose a game theory model to explain this phenomenon. One player has the option to “look” at the costs of cooperation, and the other player chooses whether to continue the interaction. If it is occasionally very costly for player 1 to cooperate, but defection is harmful for player 2, then cooperation without looking is a subgame perfect equilibrium. This behavior also emerges in population-based processes of learning or evolution. Our theory illuminates a number of key phenomena of human interactions: authentic altruism, why people cooperate intuitively, one-shot cooperation, why friends do not keep track of favors, why we admire principled people, Kant’s second formulation of the Categorical Imperative, taboos, and love.”

Hoffman, M., Yoeli, E., & Nowak, M. (2015). Cooperate without looking: Why we care what people think and not just what they do Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112 (6), 1727-1732 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1417904112

I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope

Another brick gone in the wall

The idea that there is an unbridgeable gap between human language and animal communication has taken another hit. For many years it has been maintained that chimpanzees cannot change their vocal signals, so although the grunts vary in different populations, in any particular group they are fixed. Therefore their vocalizations were not at all like a proto-language. A new paper by Watson and others (citation below) documents change in the vocalization in chimpanzees.

Goodall has said, “the production of sound in the absence of an appropriate emotional state seems to be an almost impossible task for a chimpanzee”. The general consensus was that variation of vocalization depends on emotional not informational factors, and that manual gestures were relatively flexible and intentional, whereas vocal signals were fixed.

The new study shows that chimpanzees can change the grunt for a particular food in order to better communicate with another group that they have joined. They can learn vocal symbols in a social context.

This make a big difference to our understanding of our own language ability. The proposition that our close relatives lack some important ingredient in the make-up of their brains and that is why they did not evolve a proper language has become extremely weak. It cannot be assumed that language is such an obvious advantage that any animal that has not evolved language obviously is unable to. The other idea therefore becomes stronger – we have language because we are more cooperative and trusting than our cousins. Language use is risky. Once individuals can risk open communication within a society, language takes off in both cultural and biological evolution (fast, although it probably took a few hundred thousand years). It is likely that all the ingredients were there (in our common ancestor with chimpanzees) for a proto-language and all that was needed was the safety to talk.

Here is the abstract: “One standout feature of human language is our ability to reference external objects and events with socially learned symbols, or words. Exploring the phylogenetic origins of this capacity is therefore key to a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of language. While non-human primates can produce vocalizations that refer to external objects in the environment, it is generally accepted that their acoustic structure is fixed and a product of arousal states. Indeed, it has been argued that the apparent lack of flexible control over the structure of referential vocalizations represents a key discontinuity with language. Here, we demonstrate vocal learning in the acoustic structure of referential food grunts in captive chimpanzees. We found that, following the integration of two groups of adult chimpanzees, the acoustic structure of referential food grunts produced for a specific food converged over 3 years. Acoustic convergence arose independently of preference for the food, and social network analyses indicated this only occurred after strong affiliative relationships were established between the original subgroups. We argue that these data represent the first evidence of non-human animals actively modifying and socially learning the structure of a meaningful referential vocalization from conspecifics. Our findings indicate that primate referential call structure is not simply determined by arousal and that the socially learned nature of referential words in humans likely has ancient evolutionary origins.

Watson, S., Townsend, S., Schel, A., Wilke, C., Wallace, E., Cheng, L., West, V., & Slocombe, K. (2015). Vocal Learning in the Functionally Referential Food Grunts of Chimpanzees Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.12.032

I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope


Why do coaches keep reminding golf and tennis athletes to concentrate on a good follow-through? It really should not matter that is done after the moment of contact with the ball. But it does. Howard and others show how, in a paper (citation below) on the effect of follow-through on learning and execution.

The details of motor control of an action (the details and timing of muscle commands) are held in memory as motor programs or motor memories. The appropriate motor memory must be learned and it must be retrieved from memory to be used. If we think of what happens just before and just after the important moment in an action, we have three things that can vary (lead-in – main-action – follow-through). Each different lead-in and each different follow-through would produce a different motor memory. So if there is only one lead-in and one follow-through there needs to be only one motor memory. All the practice in learning the skill can be concentrated in one motor memory. This results in faster, more accurate execution. If there are different actions near the main-action in time, those differences will give separate motor memories; and, if there are unrelated actions by in other parts of the body during the main-action, those too will give separate motor memories. The fewer similar motor memories the better.

Although we have shown that consistent follow-through leads to faster learning through selection of a single memory, this does not preclude other potential advantages of the follow-through, such as injury reduction or other biomechanical advantages … Our findings suggest that distinct follow-throughs associated with different motor skills, such as different tennis strokes, will help maintain these skills in separate motor memories, thereby protecting them from interference when learning other skills. Moreover, even for a single skill, maintaining a consistent follow-through will speed up learning. An intriguing question is why a particular follow-through might be preferred when learning a skill. Our results suggest that variability in the follow-through, which might arise from planning variability, motor noise, or other sources of variability, would lead to a reduction in the speed of skill acquisition. Therefore, it may be optimal to choose the follow-through for a skill that can be executed with the minimum variability.”

Here is the paper’s abstract: “In ball sports, we are taught to follow through, despite the inability of events after contact or release to influence the outcome. Here we show that the specific motor memory active at any given moment critically depends on the movement that will be made in the near future. We demonstrate that associating a different follow-through movement with two motor skills that normally interfere allows them to be learned simultaneously, suggesting that distinct future actions activate separate motor memories. This implies that when learning a skill, a variable follow-through would activate multiple motor memories across practice, whereas a consistent follow-through would activate a single motor memory, resulting in faster learning. We confirm this prediction and show that such follow-through effects influence adaptation over time periods associated with real-world skill learning. Overall, our results indicate that movements made in the immediate future influence the current active motor memory. This suggests that there is a critical time period both before and after the current movement that determines motor memory activation and controls learning.

Howard, I., Wolpert, D., & Franklin, D. (2015). The Value of the Follow-Through Derives from Motor Learning Depending on Future Actions Current Biology, 25 (3), 397-401 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.12.037

I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope

A mapped tiny bit of brain

Kristin Harris has spent years mapping all the cells and connections between them, in a very small volume of brain. She introduces and shows how it is mapped and put together in a video (here). It is very interesting to see just how complex and crowded the brain is. We have been spoiled on the microscope slides with individual neurons pick out amongst the multitude, as in a Golgi stained preparation.

More about neurons

I want to make a point here that we know less about the brain than is generally acknowledged. Our picture of the functioning of a neuron is taken as more or less settled knowledge; only small refinements are likely. But the refinements that are regularly published are not small. Now we have a paper (citation below) that is extraordinary.

Bywalez and others have shown that the little spines on the dendrite trees of neurons can themselves act as miniature neurons accomplishing computations similar to a full neuron (at least in the olfactory bulb part of the brain and probably other parts too) and that some synapses can be two sided, transmitting signals in both directions. This allows dendrite to dendrite communication. In effect the neck of the spine can isolate the spine from the rest of the neuron, allowing it to reach an action potential level of voltage in its area without interference from the rest of the dendrite tree, and so it is able to send a signal backwards out of the spine.

classic neuron

classic neuron

We are used to thinking of neurons as, in effect, huge add-gates that take a multitude of synapses giving inputs of various strengths and those inputs are combined in the dendrites into a voltage level in the main cell body. If that voltage is above a threshold, an action potential voltage, a signal, is propagated down the neuron’s axon to the dendrites other, usually distant, neurons. There it influences how those other neurons act by contributing a positive or negative voltage to the receiving dendrites’ totals. It is fairly easy to imagine how this works and to mimic it with electronic circuits.

But neuroscience keeps finding exceptions to this theory. There are glial cells assisting and interfering with the process and they can communicate with each other by a different mechanism. There are signals that bypass the whole dendrite calculation and input their signal at the cell body root of the axon, thereby over-riding other inputs. There are axon to axon synapses. Neurons can multitask by calculating and then sending two separate message codes to two separate groups of receiving neurons. Signals can go backwards up the axon. Some neurons can learn timing delays in their signaling. And now this: action potentials can be generated in the little spines of the dendrites and some synapses are not one way transmitters with pre and post halves, but can work both ways. The standard model is getting tattered with exceptions. No doubt there are many more exceptions to come. I venture that we are nowhere near understanding neurons and neuron network behavior.

Bywalez, W., Patirniche, D., Rupprecht, V., Stemmler, M., Herz, A., Pálfi, D., Rózsa, B., & Egger, V. (2015). Local Postsynaptic Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel Activation in Dendritic Spines of Olfactory Bulb Granule Cells Neuron DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.12.051

I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope

Some visual-form areas are really task areas

There are two paths for visual information, one to the motor areas (dorsal ‘where’ stream) and one to the areas concerned with consciousness, memory and cognition (ventral ‘what’ stream). The visual ventral stream has areas for the recognition of various categories of object: faces, body parts, letters for example. But are these areas really ‘visual’ areas or can they deal with input from other senses? There is recent research into an area concerned with numerals. (see citation below) There are some reasons to doubt a ‘vision only’ processing in these areas. “…cortical preference in the ‘visual’ cortex might not be exclusively visual and in fact might develop independently of visual experience. Specifically, An area showing preference for reading, at the precise location of the VWFA (visual word-form area), was shown to be active in congenitally blind subjects during Braille reading large-scale segregation of the ventral stream into animate and inanimate semantic categories have also been shown to be independent of visual experience. More generally, an overlap in the neural correlates of equivalent tasks has been repeatedly shown between the blind and sighted using different sensory modalities.” Is an area specialized in one domain because of cultural learning through visual experience or is the specialization the result of the specific connectivity of an area?

Abboud and others used congenitally blind subjects to see if the numeral area could process numerals arriving from auditory signals. Congenitally blind subjects cannot have categorical area that are based on visual learning. The letter area and numeral area are separate even though the letter symbols and numeral symbols are very similar – in fact can be identical. The researchers predicted that the word area had connections to language areas and the numeral area connected to quantitative areas.

eye-music application

eye-music application

The subjects were trained in eye-music, a sight substitute based on time, pitch, timbre and volume. While being scanned, the subjects heard the same musical description of an object and were asked to identify the object as part of a word, part of a number, or a colour. Roman numerals were used to give a large number of identical musical descriptions of numbers and letters. What they found was that the numeric task gave activation in the same area as it does in a sighted person and that blind and sighted subjects had the same connections, word area to language network and numeral area to quantity network. It is the connectivity patterns, independent of visual experience, that create the visual numeral-form area. “…neither the sensory-input modality and visual experience, nor the physical sensory stimulation itself, play a critical role in the specialization observed in this area. ” It is which network is active (language or quantity) that is critical.

…these results are in agreement with the theory of cultural recycling, which suggests that the acquisition of novel cultural inventions is only feasible inasmuch as it capitalizes on prior anatomical and connectional constraints and invades pre- existing brain networks capable of performing a function sufficiently similar to what is needed by the novel invention. In addition, other factors such as the specifics of how literacy and numeracy are learned, as well as the distinctive functions of numerals and letters in our education and culture, could also account for the segregation of their preferences.

Here is the abstract: “Distinct preference for visual number symbols was recently discovered in the human right inferior temporal gyrus (rITG). It remains unclear how this preference emerges, what is the contribution of shape biases to its formation and whether visual processing underlies it. Here we use congenital blindness as a model for brain development without visual experience. During fMRI, we present blind subjects with shapes encoded using a novel visual-to-music sensory-substitution device (The EyeMusic). Greater activation is observed in the rITG when subjects process symbols as numbers compared with control tasks on the same symbols. Using resting-state fMRI in the blind and sighted, we further show that the areas with preference for numerals and letters exhibit distinct patterns of functional connectivity with quantity and language-processing areas, respectively. Our findings suggest that specificity in the ventral ‘visual’ stream can emerge independently of sensory modality and visual experience, under the influence of distinct connectivity patterns. ”

Abboud, S., Maidenbaum, S., Dehaene, S., & Amedi, A. (2015). A number-form area in the blind Nature Communications, 6 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7026

I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope

Which consciousness are we talking about?

Oliver Burkeman wrote an article for the Guardian on consciousness research and philosophical thinking. I was pleasantly surprised with the historical discussion of the consciousness ideas and with (what seemed to me) a fairly balanced discussion. The new Stoppard play “The Hard Question”, may have prompted him to write the article and may account for the large number of readers. Here is a link.

Despite my liking the piece there were some places that stopped me cold.

Right at the start there is a paragraph that sums up many of the problems I had with the article. “Two decades later, we know an astonishing amount about the brain … But like an obnoxious relative who invites himself to stay for a week and then won’t leave, the Hard Problem remains.” I keep encountering this idea – that we know how the brain works. What I see is the iceberg picture. We may or may not have 10% of an understanding of the brain (less I think). Our ignorance is enormous, so not understanding this or that problem should not be surprising and should not imply the it is insoluble or even particularly stubborn, as brain problems go.

After explaining Chalmer’s philosphical zombie idea (ie people who have no conscious experience but act exactly as normal people) we have Chalmer’s justification for using the idea of zombies. “If you were approached by me and my doppelgänger, not knowing which was which, not even the most powerful brain scanner in existence could tell us apart. And the fact that one can even imagine this scenario is sufficient to show that consciousness can’t just be made of ordinary physical atoms. So consciousness must, somehow, be something extra – an additional ingredient in nature.” What bearing does being able to imagine a thing have to do with its possibility, let alone its existence? That Chalmer can imagine zombies does not mean they are possible. If it is true, as I believe it is, that consciousness is required for many processes in the brain, then a zombie is impossible, even if Chalmer can imagine one. That this may sound like a logical deduction depends on ignorance of what consciousness does and how it does it. If consciousness is a physical process and if it is required for normal thought and action then a zombie is impossible. The zombie idea simply begs the question.

Consciousness, according to Dennett’s theory, is like a conjuring trick: the normal functioning of the brain just makes it look as if there is something non-physical going on. To look for a real, substantive thing called consciousness, Dennett argues, is as silly as insisting that characters in novels, such as Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter, must be made up of a peculiar substance named “fictoplasm”; the idea is absurd and unnecessary, since the characters do not exist to begin with. … However hard it feels to accept, we should concede that consciousness is just the physical brain, doing what brains do. ” I think it is fair to say that Dennett does not think that the physical mechanisms that are associated with consciousness are an illusion but only that the idea that consciousness is something separate from the functioning of the physical brain is an illusion. It really depends what you are calling consciousness – how it is defined. Burkeman seems to me to not make this problem, of defining consciousness, clear.

Burkeman’s closing picture of the important thinkers from both sides of this disagreement, discussing the question on an arctic trip and ending the experience without having convinced one another to change their views, is a good illustration. They are trying to explain different things that go by the same name. Their notions appear to the other side to be somewhat ridiculous and missing the point. The other side can talk but just do not address their sort of consciousness.

I am sure that Crick was right in his belief that if the neural correlates of consciousness are all found and connected that consciousness will cease to be a puzzle but will be seen as a physical process of the brain. It was this belief that prompted him to spend his later years documenting some of those correlates.

Wolf to dog

Why were dogs domesticated so early? How was it done? A recent paper (citation below) looks at how much of dog behaviour might have been already in the wolf with no effort needed to produce it in the dog. All that may have been needed was to have the wolf lose its fear of man and accept man as a partner.

The researchers, Range and Viranyi, looked at the levels of tolerance and attentiveness in wolves and dogs that were living in the same sort of group and enclosure with the same interaction with humans during their whole lives. In other words they compared like with like rather than pets with wild animals. They were looking at cooperation which has its foundation in two traits. Social tolerance, the ease with which animals live and ‘work’ together, is “usually measured in the context of feeding, which is not accompanied with aggression or, if aggression occurs, it is bidirectional and ritualized.” Tolerance points to particular social emotions and communication. Social attentiveness, the amount of monitoring of companions, is important in cooperation, to know a partner’s behavior and intentions by close observation. Following another’s gaze is an indication of attentiveness. They put forward a hypothesis: “Based on findings that in intraspecific contexts wolves are at least as socially attentive and tolerant as dogs, the Canine Cooperation Hypothesis postulates that dog-human cooperation evolved on the basis of wolf-wolf cooperation. In contrast to many domestication hypotheses, it suggests that dogs did not need to be selected for a general increase in their social attentiveness and tolerance. ”

There was one experiment in particular that I found very interesting. “… we investigated gaze following into distant space and around barriers in wolves. This ability to coordinate with others’ head orientation to look in the same direction is considered a key step toward an understanding of others mental states like attention and intention and thus, is potentially also very important for being able to successfully cooperate. However, while gaze following into distant space could be simply a socially facilitated orientation response (i.e., a predisposition to look where others are looking) , gaze following around barriers, where individuals need to reposition themselves to look behind the obstacle and assess the visual persepctive of the cue-giver different from their own, has been suggested to require a mental representation of the looker’s visual perspective or learning how visual barriers impair perceptions. Accordingly, this latter ability to track another’s gaze around obstacles seems to be cognitively more advanced, and has been suggested to occur especially in species with high levels of cooperative and competitive interactions. Our results showed that wolves followed human gaze as readily as conspecific gaze implying their high social attention and their readiness to accept humans as social partners who might provide important information. ” I have thought that some dogs such as seeing-eye dogs had the ability to envisage the size, shape and mobility of their charges as if they could imagine ‘walking in their shoes”. This sort of ‘dog owners’ belief has been criticized heavily but has not changed the opinion of many owners. It is nice to see some experimental evidence of that type of ability in canines.

Here is the abstract : “At present, beyond the fact that dogs can be easier socialized with humans than wolves, we know little about the motivational and cognitive effects of domestication. Despite this, it has been suggested that during domestication dogs have become socially more tolerant and attentive than wolves. These two characteristics are crucial for cooperation, and it has been argued that these changes allowed dogs to successfully live and work with humans. However, these domestication hypotheses have been put forward mainly based on dog-wolf differences reported in regard to their interactions with humans. Thus, it is possible that these differences reflect only an improved capability of dogs to accept humans as social partners instead of an increase of their general tolerance, attentiveness and cooperativeness. At the Wolf Science Center, in order to detangle these two explanations, we raise and keep dogs and wolves similarly socializing them with conspecifics and humans and then test them in interactions not just with humans but also conspecifics. When investigating attentiveness toward human and conspecific partners using different paradigms, we found that the wolves were at least as attentive as the dogs to their social partners and their actions. Based on these findings and the social ecology of wolves, we propose the Canine Cooperation Hypothesis suggesting that wolves are characterized with high social attentiveness and tolerance and are highly cooperative. This is in contrast with the implications of most domestication hypotheses about wolves. We argue, however, that these characteristics of wolves likely provided a good basis for the evolution of dog-human cooperation.

Range, F., & Virányi, Z. (2015). Tracking the evolutionary origins of dog-human cooperation: the “Canine Cooperation Hypothesis” Frontiers in Psychology, 5 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01582

I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope